Who’s Who – B.C. – Dr. Stewart Ritchie
By Treena HeinFeatures Producers Who's Who
Experienced poultry expert is a veterinarian, researcher, educator, mentor and more.
Dr. Stewart Ritchie is a poultry veterinarian, researcher and educator. Through his research firm Canadian Poultry Consultants (CPC), which is also a veterinary practice, he delivers numerous classes, addressing important topics such as biosecurity, euthanasia and sustainability. He is also the founder and leading organizer of the B.C. Poultry Symposium and the WestVet conference. What’s more, Ritchie created S.J. Ritchie Research Farms, a commercial broiler facility in Abbotsford, B.C., where he conducts innovative studies on sustainability and delivers practical classes on brooding.
Immersed in agriculture
Ritchie’s parents hailed from Northern Ireland and were always involved in some aspect of farming. “When they arrived in Canada, they started a feed mill in Abbotsford in 1968. And when I came along and was old enough to work, I thought my name was ‘sweep floor’ or ‘grind grain,’” Ritchie says.
“Over time, but still at a very young age, I was then given the opportunity to work long hours mixing, pelleting and bagging feed and even delivering feed to customers. I especially enjoyed weighing out and mixing micro-premixes.”
This early immersion in agriculture had a huge impact on Ritchie. He decided to study broiler nutrition at the University of B.C. and learned how to formulate feeds at the family feed mill with the help and field experience of the experts there. Then, he set his sights on vet school.
While he waited for acceptance, he used his time wisely, getting a master’s degree in broiler nutrition at the University of Arkansas. “That experience was amazing,” he says. “My main supervisor, Dr. Park Waldroup, was very generous and supportive. And the other professors and the friends I made there were also extremely welcoming and so generous with their time.
“I was allowed to sit in on major integrator management meetings and be involved in so many aspects of broiler, turkey and layer production. I was in Dr. Kirk Skeeles’ first poultry diseases class and I still have the class notes. Every page is still applicable today. And did I ever enjoy attending all the Razorback basketball and football games.”
Just as he was preparing to sign up for a Ph.D. at another U.S. university, Ritchie was accepted to vet school at the University of Saskatchewan. However, he learned very quickly that he was one of only a few with an interest in poultry medicine. “If it weren’t for Dr. Craig Riddell and some amazing classmates, it would have been a long four years,” he says. “Dr. Riddell took me under his wing and I am forever grateful for his tutelage and friendship.”
After he graduated, back at the family feed mill Dave Smith and Dr. Al Leslie further provided Ritchie with career support. “Mr. Smith gave me his only copy of the textbook Nutrition of the Chicken, which I continue to reference to this day,” Ritchie says. “I also picked up more education in poultry disease from Dr. Douglas McCausland, who provided veterinary consultation in the area at the time.”
Researcher and educator
By 1989, Ritchie had established CPC and in 1992, the research farm. Both of these moves were major steps in his quest to improve poultry disease prevention and optimize broiler health and performance in B.C. and beyond.
His own research began in earnest, with adjustments as needed. For example, he eventually modified the pens in his trial barn into mini-pens. And by November 2017, he’d made additions to the research farm to reduce inputs and boost sustainability. These included solar panels to reduce electricity use, rainwater capture to reduce water use and more efficient systems for the use of natural gas.
Also back in 1989, Ritchie organized the first Western Meeting of Poultry Clinicians and Pathologists, soon to be known as WestVet. For many years, it was held in Lake Louise, Alta. But to attract more poultry scientists and nutritionists, in 2014, he and the other organizers moved the event to Abbotsford.
“It was then that I decided to start an adjunct meeting, the B.C. Poultry Symposium, to help further expand the exposure of invited poultry experts to producers and poultry service teams,” Ritchie explains. “These meetings have been extremely successful and also a lot of fun. The pandemic has, of course, shifted us to online presentations, but this too has been a remarkable success. I think continuing education is what makes poultry science and the poultry industry successful and so interesting.”
To help young people in the poultry industry, Ritchie and his colleagues have established the Riddell-Julian Canadian Poultry Scholarship.
In 2002, Ritchie launched Platinum Brooding classes, enabling producers to make changes to their management practices to gain significant improvements in bird health, welfare and performance. “It’s been a collective effort,” Ritchie says. “I really enjoy the interactions with producers and it’s the producers who often teach me. They’ve offered many new ideas that they are more than happy to share.”
Poultry veterinarian Dr. Gigi Lin has worked with Ritchie at CPC since 2017. She describes her colleague and mentor as a genuine role model. “I’ve known him for 10 years and he has had a big impact on me and my career,” Lin says. “He convinced me that poultry is what I should specialize in and he’s been very supportive of me and of many other veterinarians.
“He is very approachable and extremely generous with his time, advice and support,” Lin adds. “He makes himself available to other veterinarians, broiler producers, anyone, any time of day. He’s always working and he’s very dedicated to making the industry better. He’s also very well-travelled and he shares that international knowledge and perspective. And he’s very active with feed efficiency and other aspects of sustainability. I have so much respect for him.”
Back in high school, Ritchie met his future wife Sandra, who is now a retired neonatal critical care nutritionist. They had four kids, in what Ritchie calls “a straight run flock of two girls and two boys. And due to great brooding, the boys are taller than me, and I’m 6’6”!”
All four children followed their father in some aspects of his poultry journey – mostly doing clean up duties like Ritchie had done at his parents’ feed mill business long ago. Now, the Ritchie kids have their own careers in nursing, teaching, marketing and agriculture. He also has two grandchildren with a third on the way.
“As far as hobbies go, my wife and I enjoy preparing food from high-quality ingredients and this, in turn, supports our gardening (weeding) hobbies, fishing and raising full blood Wagyu beef,” Ritchie says. “I enjoy being on or near any body of water, fishing, surfing, skiing and swimming – and telling jokes, both new ones and recycled ones.
Future of chicken
Ritchie plans to continue to enjoy his career journey, tackling challenges head-on with colleagues, friends and family. He can’t wait to get back to travelling to keep learning and meeting new friends in the poultry industry.
In terms of the future of chicken, Ritchie feels “very confident that if we stick to what has made us successful in the past and continue to welcome innovation, we will survive and thrive. We’ve always focused on sustainability and if we measure what resources we are using to produce our food products, we can continue to assure the consumer that when they purchase Canadian poultry products, they are receiving sustainable, top-notch quality.
“Collecting precise data and analyzing it effectively will undoubtedly continue to guide us in the right directions. Poultry products are safe, wholesome and reasonably priced – this is what is written under my veterinary yearbook picture and it is still true today.”
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