In June, 31 poultry production management personnel from 20 countries gathered in Huntsville, Ala., for the 50th Aviagen Production Management School. And while the fundamental concept of the school remains unchanged from when it began, the experience has evolved over time.

In the 1960s, recognizing they were in the midst of a revolution, executives at Arbor Acres saw the need to teach the fundamentals of poultry husbandry and production to its employees and customers, and in 1967, the Arbor Acres Production Management School opened its doors. If the Arbor Acres brand was to grow worldwide, they reasoned, those responsible for growing it had better follow the industry's best practices.

The idea was to create an immersive school designed to give rising stars hands-on experience with virtually every facet of poultry production. Since the school first opened, more than 1,500 poultry professionals from 62 countries have graduated.

Creating generations of leaders

In the early days of the school, students would live at the school for up to three months. In addition to half a day of instruction, students would spend hours every day learning what it takes to breed broilers, to clean poultry houses and select birds, and to handle and sanitize eggs. They were exposed to parts of the business they perhaps knew existed but never saw. They learned how their roles and their companies fit in a larger, ever more global industry.

"Much of the modern poultry industry came about because of this school," says Neal Scanlon, who ran the school after it was relocated to Huntsville following Arbor Acres' merger with Aviagen. "It really helped create generations of industry leaders. These were people who were expected to move up in their companies, and they're hand-picked to attend. And when they return home and share those best practices with others, it elevates their entire company."

The 2013 school featured 19 field trips and workshops focusing on fertility, ventilation, gut health, feed formulation, and more. "We get people right into the facilities so they understand how everything works," says Scanlon.

An extensive curriculum

The now month-long course immerses students in lessons on poultry nutrition, veterinary science, hatchery operations, genetic selection, production, and farm management best practices for managing successful breeder and broiler operations.

Most hands-on sessions and field trips take place at Aviagen production facilities, including the company's Product Development Center in Albertville, Ala.

Weekly written exams culminate with a formal graduation dinner and awards ceremony hosted by Mark Wright, director of the Aviagen Production Management School.

A view to the future

International demand has grown so much in the past decade that Aviagen has expanded the school to other regions. An annual, weeklong school launched in 2007 in China; a trilingual school for Latin America begun in 2011; and three weeklong annual schools serving students in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, begun in 2012 and held in Scotland, Hungary and the Netherlands, initially.

Aviagen plans to continue innovating, both at home and abroad. "We'll be incorporating a broader curriculum with more hands-on instruction, and we'll be accommodating more students from more countries around the world," says Wright. "We'll also be expanding our regional schools, with more schools based on the modular, one-week format of the European school. This is all about helping to support future generations of poultry professionals."