By Treena Hein
Veterinarian and breeder expert thrives on solving poultry challenges.
By Treena Hein
“A challenging and dynamic field.” That’s how Dr. Fernando Salgado-Bierman describes poultry medicine. “There is always something new to learn or a puzzle to solve,” he says.
Salgado-Bierman, veterinarian and breeder services manager with Maple Lodge Farms’ Hatcheries in Ontario, has a family that has long been involved in food production. “My great grandparents were pig and mango farmers in Puerto Rico, and my grandparents ran a small grocery and butcher shop in New York,” he shares. “I have many fond memories on the maple syrup and dairy farms of Vermont. I was born in the United States and moved to Canada when I was in middle school. My early farm experiences piqued a strong interest in farming, which developed into a love of cooking. I also became very interested in food security and production.”
In undergrad, he worked as a technician at an animal research facility, which furthered his interest in population medicine. In 2012, Salgado-Bierman was accepted into the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph and found that he enjoyed pathology and epidemiology. During his third year, he took an elective poultry module and
attended some additional poultry events. “During vet school rotations, I selected a poultry placement and something clicked,” he recalls. “I decided on poultry medicine as it combines my academic interests with the ability to work with many great people. Plus, my wife really disapproved of how I smelled after my swine rotations!”
During his last year of vet school, with the help of the administration and many poultry practitioners, Salgado-Bierman was able to create a year intensively focused on poultry study. And as he’s stated, poultry medicine still sustains his interest because it’s full of new ongoing challenges. “Furthermore, there are new scientific developments, fluctuations in the public’s attitude towards food production and the emergence of new disease strains,” he notes. “The type of issues we face is always changing from day-to-day. Another key aspect of poultry medicine that I love is the interdisciplinary teamwork it demands. I am lucky to work with so many great people in various fields. The best outcomes of poultry medicine are a result of the application of expertise from a group of individuals.”
At Maple Lodge Farms’ Hatcheries, Salgado-Bierman’s work includes research, technical support and flock health visits. He also writes health plans, reviews flock performance and evaluates health data for producers. In the hatchery, he conducts animal welfare training, updates the animal welfare program and provides veterinary advice. Additionally, Salgado-Bierman is part of the Industry Broiler Health (IBH) working group, where stakeholders across the industry work together to find solutions to current poultry health challenges.
Salgado-Bierman also works on various applied research projects and has co-authored a paper on the detection of birds that are dead on arrival at processing after gas stunning, which demonstrates how animal welfare can be improved by limiting bird disturbance pre-stun.
Dr. Rachel Ouckama, general manager of the hatchery division, also notes Salgado-Bierman organizes producer education days and writes Ontario-specific best management practices to assist producers and the breeder service team. In addition, Salgado-Bierman is now re-writing the firm’s Breeder Service Manual.
It is challenging for Salgado-Bierman to pinpoint the most significant things he’s learned so far at Maple Lodge Farms’ Hatcheries, as he says there have been so many. “I would say the main thing that I’ve learned is that issues are rarely caused by a single factor,” he notes. “When it is, it’s usually quickly corrected. But often, when an issue arises, it’s multifactorial and it takes time, teamwork, trust and good records to learn from our mistakes and optimize production.”
In terms of what the overall experience of working at Maple Lodge Farms has provided, Salgado-Bierman explains that since the firm is a leading poultry company in Canada with decades of experience, he’s had the opportunity to be connected with some of the best people in the industry. “And because Maple Lodge Farms is involved in everything from the hatching of the chick to processing, I now have a good overview of the entire industry,” the veterinarian says. “I have also had the privilege of mentorship from Dr. Ouckama, a well-respected veterinarian with extensive knowledge of poultry medicine.” In addition, Salgado-Bierman has learned an extensive amount from the Maple Lodge Farms’ breeder service team, and has had the opportunity to work with various types of operations and styles of management, learning about the best aspects of each.
There are several current opportunities for the Canadian poultry industry that Salgado-Bierman notes should be acted on. “We have the opportunity to further refine our management systems in the face of antibiotic reduction to increase the efficiency of chicken production while maintaining a high welfare standard,” he asserts.
“We also have the chance now to apply new and developing technologies to create early warning systems in the barn and the hatchery, for example with monitoring, record keeping and rapid diagnosis. There is also may be technology coming that will sex eggs prior to incubation. Lastly, there is the opportunity to promote sustainability (including animal welfare) and efficiency in chicken production in a world that is increasingly concerned with the methods and effects of modern food production.”
In terms of his own short-term goals, Salgado-Bierman will continue doing research to optimize broiler breeder production to provide answers to practical issues facing poultry farms in Ontario today. “In the next year, I want to optimize a gut health plan for our broiler breeders, which will be increasingly important in the face of antibiotic reduction,” he says. “In terms of a long-term goal, I will work to become a board-certified veterinarian in poultry medicine.” This is a professional distinction that can open doors to sitting on various industry groups panels, being involved in provincial initiatives and more.
In his personal life, Salgado-Bierman will continue to hone his cooking and gardening skills and says he and his wife are also saving for a small farm.
He sees the Canadian poultry industry as very proactive when it comes to promoting social issues – sustainability, welfare and antibiotic reduction. “Our systems here in Canada, and specifically Ontario, enable us to do the best job,” he notes. “I’m very proud to be part of it.”