Auburn University’s College of Agriculture has hatched an exciting new addition to its poultry science department. Just in time for the fall semester, the long anticipated Poultry & Animal Nutrition Center has opened its doors to students and the poultry industry alike. Located in the center of the “Broiler Belt,” Auburn is one of six poultry science programs in the United States; and with its new mill, it is poised to fill the gap in feed and animal nutrition research, training and education in the Southeast.
In January 2008, the seed for the creation of the feed mill was planted at the International Poultry Expo/International Feed Expo (IPE/IFE). Like so many attendees, Auburn University staffers were walking the show, viewing the best the feed and poultry industries had to offer by way of innovation and equipment. Mitchell Pate, director of Auburn University’s Poultry Research Unit, happened upon T. E. Ibberson Company’s booth and a video of what at the time was California Polytechnic State University’s (Cal Poly) new academic feed mill. Impressed, he brought Dr. Don Conner, department head and professor, Auburn Poultry Science, over to learn more about the Cal Poly project.
“We needed a new mill in order to expand our research capabilities — but what really struck me was the Cal Poly photo of all the students posing on the modular units of its feed mill,” Conner says. “[The design] is ideal for student learning.”
Meanwhile, back at Auburn, the university had been eyeing the prime campus real estate being occupied by the aging poultry barns and feed mill. Pate, who graduated from Auburn’s Poultry Science program in 1984, returned to the university to head up Auburn’s Poultry Research and Extension Center in 2006. One of his primary responsibilities with the university was to spearhead the management of the university’s relocation of its poultry farm to the North Auburn Campus in three phases: first, the feed mill; second, the broiler houses; and, third, the processing plant.
“One of my passions is feed milling so I really pushed to get the ball rolling on the new mill,” Pate says. “I feel like students in the Southeast don’t get enough training in the feed milling area.”
As word of Auburn’s intentions got out, the supplier community and industry stakeholders, many who would eventually become key donors, strongly encouraged the team to bring a Cal Poly-esque modular mill to Auburn.
With the support of the university and private industry, construction on the new mill began in June 2011. T. E. Ibberson provided the mill’s design engineering and construction, which includes nearly 100 tons of storage; J&L Contractors erected the 12,000-square-foot building.
The $7 million research mill is funded 100% by soft money from the poultry industry and associated industries; no federal or state government money was used. The feed industry’s suppliers donated over $750,000 worth of equipment.
Creation of an academic mill
While the original mill served its purpose churning out generations of Auburn poultry science students since 1976, it bears no comparison to the new mill.
“It’s like comparing a caveman’s stone wheel against a Mercedes C-Class,” Pate explains. “The new mill is a different ball game.”
Conner adds: “The suppliers of the basic equipment are still in business — and the tried-and-true technology is there — but the old mill had its limitations. To achieve the level of precision and accuracy for modern poultry and animal nutrition research, we really had to build in more capacity and capability.”
During the early planning phases, the Auburn team developed a technical advisory committee (TAC) comprised of industry leaders and staff to steer the layout of the mill toward an optimal design, including the state-of-the-art technologies and equipment students will encounter in a modern commercial mill.