For JT Pope, a career in the poultry industry seemed like it was destiny. The North Carolina State University (NC State) College of Agriculture and Life Sciences alumnus and current nutritionist with the House of Raeford says it all started when he was 13 years old.
“My dad bought a house and with that house came ducks and chickens. Whenever we moved into that house, the ducks and chickens were there and we started taking care of them,” Pope shares.
The Orange County, North Carolina, native says his father realized how much his son enjoyed taking care of the birds, so they bought more.
“We ended up having a pretty large flock. I think at one point we had a little over 100 ducks on a pond in the front yard and about 25 different species,” Pope explains.
Pope says about a year or two later, his father bought him an incubator for Christmas and a bunch of quail eggs. “I started hatching quail out and building brooders and then we would let them go. I had a great time doing that.”
In addition to the hands-on experience working with poultry at his childhood home, Pope was an active member of the National FFA Organization. Through FFA, he met many alumni who had graduated from NC State. And though the biggest question for most high school teens is, “Where are you going to college?” for Pope it was more about “What are you going to do when you get to college?”
He knew NC State was known as an agricultural school and later realized the university offered a degree in poultry science. Pope recalls reading more about the degree on the department’s website and thinking it was the perfect fit for him. He began his path in CALS as a transfer student, first spending a year at Pfeiffer University and a year at another community college.
While here, he was the recipient of several CALS scholarships including the Col. and Mrs. William H. Breeze Agricultural Scholarship, Carolina Feed Industry Association Scholarship, J.B. Ward Poultry Science Memorial Scholarship, T.T. Brown Memorial Endowed Scholarship and the Tom Hester Fellowship.
Pope graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in poultry science. He decided to stay at NC State for the next four years to earn his master’s in poultry science and nutrition and his doctorate in animal and poultry science.
Now, as a nutritionist with House of Raeford in Eastern North Carolina, Pope focuses on keeping birds healthy.
“I help formulate diets for chickens. The company spends millions a week on raw material that we use to make feed. They hire people like me to put a feed package together to make sure we’re getting the most use out of that investment,” Pope explains. “We really work with everybody involved with getting a chicken from egg into our plant and get them to market age and weight.”
Pope says his work day isn’t a typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job and despite some additional hours, he absolutely enjoys his work.
“This is a lot of fun, the science…it’s amazing and we’re constantly being approached about new technologies and we’re trying new things out. It’s really fun just to be able to watch that,” he says.
A lot of folks have put their trust in Pope and that’s what motivates him to keep doing the work that he loves.
“For me, I want to make sure that I’m doing the best I can at my job to make sure that the company is successful. When they are successful, I’m successful, too,” he said.
For his dedication and hard work in the poultry industry, Pope was honored as one of CALS’ Outstanding Young Alumni. He received an award from the college at the CALS’ annual Alumni Awards ceremony on Sept. 18.
“It was a nice surprise,” Pope says. “It was really nice that they thought of me in that capacity because a lot of people they’ve given that award to have had a positive impact on our industry. I just hope I can carry on that legacy.”