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On the Farm with Kelly Brannan: Alum Supports Research in Salisbury

Kelly Brannan in orange coveralls crouching in a hen house

Kelly Brannan may not work directly for NC State, but she’s definitely part of the Prestage Department of Poultry Science (PDPS) family. A two-time alum, she now works closely with PDPS researchers in her position with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS).

Brannan works at the Piedmont Research Station in Salisbury, NC. The NCDA&CS research stations collaborate with NC State University and N.C. A&T to promote research in all areas of the state.

Salisbury is a hefty hike from Raleigh, but Kelly stays engaged with the department through on-going research projects, conference attendance, seminar presentations and department gatherings.

Brannan’s work as the Research Operations Manager for the station’s poultry unit makes her an important bridge builder – read how her work makes research happen.

What’s your role at NC State?

I work as the Research Operations Manager at Piedmont Research Station’s Poultry Unit in Salisbury, NC.

Tell us about your work.

I help coordinate research trials for NC State poultry faculty on the farm.

The site is unique in that it has five large-scale, different layer facilities at the same site as well as broiler breeder rearing and laying, a hatchery and a broiler house – we just about do it all!

Every day is different, depending on what trials we have going on but the basics are feeding, egg collecting, ongoing maintenance for the facilities and preparing for new trials.

We’re also exploring new ways to bring technology onto the farm, like our wifi-equipped chicken houses and electronic data collection.

What’s the most important thing for people to know about the work you do?

One of the greatest things about this farm is that the staff all love a challenge!

We’ve equipped thermostats to homemade timing devices for cyclic heat stress trials, installed fake grass for free-range chickens, broadcast live video and audio footage from a chicken house – if you’ve got a weird and wonderful project to try, we’re game to find a way to make it work.

We enjoy finding new ways to answer questions and ultimately helping develop solutions for the poultry industry.

How did you get into your current position?

Kelly Brannon in a hen house
Kelly at Piedmont

I started as an Animal Science B.S. student, but after Carm Parkhurst’s Intro to Poultry class I added poultry science to my major. I went on to do my M.S. at NC State with John Brake and worked part-time in between at Embrex to learn more about the commercial side of research.

After I graduated from NC State, I worked at the University of Maryland as their Equine and Poultry Extension Coordinator – a weird combination, but lots of fun!

I got engaged and moved to South Africa to be with my husband. While there I ran the University of Pretoria’s poultry research farm and eventually started on my Ph.D.

The political climate was becoming unstable. As much as I love the country, it wasn’t a great environment and so I started looking for jobs back in the U.S. I was lucky enough to find an opening at the Piedmont Research Station and found a beautiful farm and amazing team to work with!

Are you doing anything new or that you never would have seen yourself doing when you started your job?

More of our research trials seem to be going towards bird welfare, cage-free/free-range and organic, which speaks to trends currently occurring within the poultry industry. It’s good that our projects stay relevant but concerning that consumer perceptions (and misconceptions) are difficult to change even with peer-reviewed research.

People often think of faculty and students when they think of universities. What should people know about staff positions?

I think many people think of the university strictly as a classroom setting, but the research side is necessary to keep the classroom material fresh and relevant.

We’re developing the new technology and knowledge today that will be taught in classes tomorrow!

Do you have any interesting or unusual hobbies?

My current hobby seems to be my Ph.D., but when I get a chance to do something a bit more fun I play guitar badly and try to get a workout in at the gym.

Any wisdom, advice or final thoughts?

A common catchphrase that we often repeat on the farm is “Of course we don’t know what we’re doing, that’s why it’s called research!” (mostly said in jest). No matter how much you know, the chickens will always find a way to surprise you!