Meet Dr. Kate Hayes: leading the way in poultry veterinary services and industry innovation.
By Lilian SchaerFeatures Researchers
One trailblazing poultry veterinarian's journey to leadership and success.
From a young age, Dr. Kate Hayes had her heart set on becoming a veterinarian. She grew up in Calgary in a family that had strong human-animal bonds, and during her undergraduate studies in animal science at Middle Tennessee State University, she took advantage of opportunities to work on the school’s dairy farm and at a small animal clinic in town.
“I went to vet school at the University of Tennessee still focused on large animal medicine but there was one course in poultry that was interesting and made me think that I knew nothing about these crazy little creatures,” Hayes recalls.
Her first job after graduation was as a veterinarian in a small animal practice, but then her husband got a job with poultry genetics company Aviagen North America. He began telling her about his work with chickens and chicken farmers – and when the company had an opening for a poultry vet, he persuaded her to apply.
Specializing in poultry
“That was 15 and a half years ago, and the rest is history – I wouldn’t want to move away from this industry; it’s awesome,” she says. “I get such a kick out of chickens, they’re really interesting and I love their little personalities – but I also love the ability to help on the international team and interface with our customers. That’s where we can make a huge difference and that means a lot to me.”
Hayes joined Aviagen as a poultry rookie so to speak and in her new role as associate veterinarian, began learning the industry from the ground up. Her job focused on building relationships with farmers and the internal Aviagen team, supporting them as needed with biosecurity training, welfare and when birds were having health challenges.
After about eight years, she got her first taste of management and being able to provide leadership support as a production program veterinarian, and in 2021, she was appointed vice president of veterinary services for North America. It’s a job that oversees seven internal veterinarians and a laboratory director and touches virtually all aspects of Aviagen’s business from hatcheries and quality assurance, to production planning, exports, and laboratory services.
“This gives me the opportunity to be a leader and help guide the team; it’s a nice way to have a role that has the pleasure of working with everyone at Aviagen,” she says, adding she’s also part of the company’s global health team which gives her an opportunity to consider the industry from an international perspective.
Two milestones in particular stand out in her mind as achievements she’s particularly proud of at Aviagen. The company’s two internal labs in the U.S. have both achieved ISO 17025 accreditation, which Hayes says took an enormous amount of commitment and effort from her team members.
And in 2017, Aviagen became the first primary poultry breeder in the U.S. to be certified as an Avian Influenza Clean Compartment, meaning the company can provide its poultry farmers worldwide with an uninterrupted supply of quality breeding stock.
Compartmentalization is an international program developed by the World Organization for Animal Health that sets standards to allow for evaluation of an exporting country’s poultry management practices and biosecurity programs.
“Every year we look at new ways in how to do better and improve; I’m really proud of the team,” she says. “
In addition to her work at Aviagen, Hayes is also active in the broader industry. She was chair of the American College of Poultry Veterinarians (ACPV) examination
committee from 2018 to 2022, where she supported a reorganization to streamline the exam process for veterinary candidates.
She has also co-chaired the mentorship subcommittee for the American Association of Avian Pathologists (AAAP) Membership Committee and is a Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO)-certified welfare auditor.
As much as she loves poultry, though, Hayes’ real drive comes from her passion for people and commitment to help others coming into the industry.
“I look back on people who helped and supported me during my career and progression and what they did to go above and beyond. There are so many wonderful people in this industry,” she explains. “I’m an introvert and I started pretty shy in connecting with people. So, I would like to help future colleagues facing similar challenges, so they don’t stumble.”
She believes strongly in supporting more diversity in the industry, particularly bringing more women into management roles, and encouraging young people – especially those not from farming backgrounds – to consider careers involving poultry.
“It’s an innovative industry that offers rewarding opportunities to people with wide ranging interests, and we move quickly on new technologies and innovation,” she notes. “I look at my team members and how they’re hungry to learn and have their minds stimulated, and we will continue to innovate and do things better tomorrow.”
The opportunity for the industry is endless, she adds, but only if it is able to keep evolving to deal with emerging diseases and challenges that will come with the impact changing environmental conditions can have on both animals and people. That means being forward-thinking and willing to change the status quo.
According to Hayes, not having an agriculture background didn’t keep her from pursuing a career in the industry. For her, working with animals during her undergraduate years – when that meant getting up at 3:00 a.m. to milk cows – was rewarding, as was the idea of providing food for people and sharing with others what agriculture means to the world.
In contemplating her future in the industry, her focus is very much on people and helping others achieve their goals.
“I’m at the stage in my career where it’s less about me and more about everybody else, which is very rewarding. I can take delight in seeing other people get the win and be successful,” she says. “I want to look at life going forward in whatever turn of the road is out there and think about how I can best serve those in the industry to maximize their potential – that makes me happy.”
Print this page