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CALS Weekly

A Passion for Poultry Science

A deep appreciation for poultry and poultry medicine has given senior Chloe O'Brien a foothold into a bright future.

A woman stands with a chicken

Growing up, Chloe O’Brien knew she liked science and animals. Like most suburban teens, she was mostly familiar with cats and dogs and figured she’d probably pursue a career as a neighborhood veterinarian.

But the wheels of change began to turn after she attended NC State University’s summer Vet Camp for high school students. As a native of Raleigh’s suburbs, she didn’t have much exposure to livestock, farms or animal welfare in agriculture, until the camp took her to NC State’s animal education units where she got to interact with goats, sheep and pigs.

“That camp was when I saw my very first farm animal ever and how they were raised,” O’Brien recalls. “And, so with that, I kind of knew, OK, I like the agricultural side.”

Now poised to graduate on May 4 with a degree in poultry science, O’Brien says it was that early experience that helped her connect the dots to what has turned into a full-fledged fascination with poultry and poultry medicine.

O’Brien first came to NC State in 2020 through the Agricultural Institute as a livestock and poultry management major. She thought she might want to focus on ruminant animals, but after working in a lab alongside a poultry science professor studying the disease histomoniasis in turkeys, something clicked.

“There is a lot of research involved,” she says. “And I quickly realized that when you have 40,000 birds in a flock, and you have to assess what’s wrong — well, it’s not going to be one straightforward answer. It’s going to be a causal pie of factors, and I find that so interesting.” 

After earning her associate’s degree from the Agricultural Institute, O’Brien seamlessly transitioned to pursuing her bachelor’s degree in poultry science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. As a four-year student she has thrived, excelling in courses like Agrosecurity, Muscle Foods and Eggs, and Comparative Nutrition and Avian Diseases.

a woman in dark clothes outside a silver industrial building
O’Brien outside a poultry house before heading in to evaluate a flock during an internship with Lincoln Premium Poultry.
two women with a goat and a horse
O’Brien during an internship as a student with the Agricultural Institute exploring an operation with a heard of 100 goats.

“One of the pivotal moments in my academic journey came during a class on avian anatomy taught by Professor Frank Edens. His encyclopedic knowledge of avian systems and his systematic approach to teaching were unmatched,” she recalls, noting that Edens has become a mentor and friend. “Our walks back to his office after class turned into regular meetings where we discussed everything from poultry to life’s bigger questions. His office became a sanctuary where I could seek advice, share updates about my family or chat about life, with his wisdom being a guiding force during my studies.”

Edens is equally impressed with O’Brien. Her ability to take in information and immediately understand it and find applications for it, he says, has allowed her to succeed in the lab and in the field.

“She’ll absorb everything that comes toward her and then she has the ability to work that knowledge everywhere she goes,” Edens says. “Her ability to translate knowledge into actions is quite remarkable.”

That support gave O’Brien the confidence to put her skills to the test during the summer of 2022 as a poultry veterinary services intern with Lincoln Premium Poultry in Fremont, Nebraska. The internship even afforded her the opportunity to meet famed animal behaviorist Temple Grandin.

“Beyond acquiring practical skills, this internship profoundly deepened my appreciation for animal welfare, learning from the most intelligent, esteemed individual, Temple Grandin. Observing how birds react to their environment, similarly to humans, underscored the importance of empathetically stepping into the birds’ shoes,” O’Brien says. “This approach involved learning about the optimal living conditions and understanding the goal-motivated behaviors these birds perform to seek comfort and well-being, ensuring we provide them with that comfort and well-being. This role reaffirmed my commitment to poultry science and highlighted the significant impact I can make in enhancing animal welfare within this essential industry.”

two women sitting at a restaurant table
Chloe O’Brien (right) talks with Temple Grandin.
a women in a scientific lab
O’Brien conducting lab tests.
a group of women stand next to a sign
O’Brien with her teammates from Poultry Science who won second place at an Animal Welfare Assessment Content.

For the past year, she’s worked as a poultry field intern with Phibro Animal Health, gaining additional hands-on experience that has reinforced her goal of pursuing a career as veterinarian specializing in poultry medicine. She also honed her skills through several research projects, which she presented at various conferences.

Now, with the completion of her bachelor’s degree in sight, O’Brien is focused on earning her Professional Animal Auditor Certification to conduct audits for commercial farms and processing facilities while applying to veterinary school. She plans to ultimately work as a veterinarian for a large poultry farm.  

“I love the magnitude of it,” she says. “It’s not just one bird. It’s a bird that costs money to raise and a bird that could go to feed a family. The stakes are higher and there’s so much complexity.”

Reflecting on her time as a poultry science major, O’Brien says she’s thankful for all the support and encouragement that have set her up for the next step in her education and professional journey.

“The entire poultry science department is deeply invested in the success and well-being of its students, creating a nurturing community bound by shared passion and curiosity,” she says. “This department and major has truly changed my life, and I am immensely grateful for everyone I have met along the way.”