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Episode 58: Embracing Change in the Ohio Poultry Industry with Jim Chakeres

“It seems that things happen to poultry first when they hit agriculture.” 

Jim Chakeres knows this because he’s served as the executive vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association for over 20 years, experiencing and embracing changes in the industry along the entire way. For Chakeres, the Ohio Poultry Association has a strong responsibility to help producers adjust and grow despite challenges. 

“We embrace change,” said Chakeres. “And so I’m proud of the path that we have taken in working with our farmer leaders to develop new strategies and new programming that’s changed the way we care for our birds.” 

While new systems and technologies have allowed poultry producers to adopt new and effective practices, health challenges, particularly avian influenza, have changed how producers operate, putting additional pressure on farms in recent years.

“Avian influenza, and in particular the highly pathogenic strains that we’ve seen recently, are a monumental concern,” explained Chakeres. “It results in complete depopulation and it’s devastating. We want to make sure we educate and inform producers about how to best protect their flocks because we want to continue to have an uninterrupted, safe food supply that remains affordable.” 

Chakeres emphasized biosecurity on both commercial farms and in backyard flocks, underscoring that small chicken coops have as much of a risk as developing avian influenza. 

“We want to protect even those small backyard flocks,” said Chakeres. “Especially during these peak migration times. Bring your birds inside. When they have outside access, they can co-mingle with wild birds, that’s when you’re most at risk.” 

Biosecurity Tips for Small and Large Poultry Farms:

  • Implement high-level biosecurity where possible, with methods like shower-in and shower-out. At a minimum, change footwear before entering the barn. 

  • Use the “Danish entry system” by keeping a dedicated pair of barn shoes. 

  • Avoid wearing the same clothes around different flocks to prevent spread. 

  • Don’t allow barn cats inside the flock barn to avoid disease transmission. 

  • Implement stringent rodent control measures and limit wild birds like songbirds and sparrows from roosting in barns to prevent them from bringing in diseases. 

  • Restrict farm visitors, especially those recently around other livestock or birds. If a visit is necessary, ask the visitor about their recent contact with animals and provide shoe covers to prevent disease from entering through footwear. 

Supporting poultry producers is just one key objective of the Ohio Poultry Association’s mission. Another encompasses engaging in communication and education with consumers. 

“We want to be part of a very transparent food system,” said Chakeres. “Reaching consumers in today’s world is sometimes not easy, but I think we have an amazing opportunity that everyone eats and everyone is connected through food.” 

The association uses various methods to reach the public with its messaging, connecting with consumers through food nutrition in unique ways. Chakeres noted the association’s robust social media outreach and partner marketing efforts with Ohio State University sports. 

“Nutrition is important. Everyone wants to eat healthier, so that information comes into play, and poultry and eggs are great and fit into all of those health halo needs that people have,” said Chakeres. “And so once we can connect on food and nutrition, then I think the next logical step is how we start talking about the farmer's story and how we then connect with how the food is produced and the people behind it.” 

Looking to the future, Chakeres said he would love to have a crystal ball. But if there’s anything he could predict, it would be that the poultry industry will continue to embrace change. 

“I think we’re going to continue to become more efficient. We’re going to become more sustainable. I think those are all things that we look to. They’re not just buzzwords, they’re reality.” 

Here’s a glance at this episode:

  • [00:29] Host Libby Wixtead introduces guest Jim Chakeres and his background in agriculture. 

  • [02:50] Jim shares how he got involved in the Ohio Poultry Association.

  • [04:27] Jim discusses the challenges and changes the Ohio Poultry Association has faced over the years. 

  • [08:27] Jim talks about the concern of avian influenza and the importance of biosecurity for both large commercial operations and backyard flocks. 

  • [11:36] Jim shares biosecurity measures in preventing avian influenza. 

  • [14:20] Discussing nutrient management, Jim explains how poultry manure is both a valuable resource and how the poultry industry is committed to environmental care. 

  • [17:13] Jim speaks on the association’s consumer outreach efforts through social media and other partnerships. 

  • [22:07] Jim predicts what the future holds for the poultry industry, which includes embracing change and maintaining its leading role in feeding the world sustainably. 


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Voiceover (00:08):Welcome to AgCredit Said It. In each episode, our hosts sit down with experts from all parts of the agriculture industry to bring you insights and must-have information on all things from farming to finances and everything in between.


Libby Wixtead (00:29):Welcome back to AgCredit Said It. I'm Libby Wixtead and I'm very excited to be diving into Ohio's poultry industry today. This industry is near and dear to my heart from my days in 4-H and FFA. Today we have Jim Chakeres with us. Jim has served as executive vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association for over 20 years, starting his career with the association in October of 2003. He has a diverse background in agricultural leadership, having served as the director of marketing programs with the Ohio Farm Bureau for five years and as the executive director of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association for 11 years.


(01:06):He has a master's in Animal Genetics and Public Relations from the Ohio State University. The Ohio Poultry Association represents more than 1,000 egg, chicken, and turkey farms in the state. Ohio's egg, chicken, and turkey farming companies contribute more than $4.9 billion to the state's economy. Welcome Jim, and thanks for joining us today.


Jim Chakeres (01:29):Thank you. Pleasure to be here.


Libby Wixtead (01:31):Could you start off by telling us about your background and how you became executive vice president?


Jim Chakeres (01:37):Sure. Well, I grew up in a rural area, relatively small town. Was involved with 4-H for many years, diversified livestock, and I really knew that's what I wanted to do. Back in the day I kind of thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, and that didn't work out for me. Back in the day, things are much different now than they were back then, and as I look back on it it kind of was, I think, the right decision, so fate or karma was looking out for me at the time. And I knew that I wanted to be involved with production agriculture, maybe not production on a daily basis, but I wanted to advocate for it. Because feeding people and protecting our environment, that's near and dear to my heart. And so I looked for a career path that got me where I am today and kind of after 4-H, the Ohio State University was the logical choice.


Libby Wixtead (02:39):Okay. I see you've gone through a couple of different species' associations, so what brought you to the Poultry Association?


Jim Chakeres (02:50):Sure, that's a good question. I grew up and was probably most active in the sheep industry and I really enjoyed that. We showed for years growing up, took that into college. So went through a couple of early career options and the opportunity to work for the sheep producers and to represent and to advocate on behalf of the industry was there, so I grabbed a hold of that. And I think we made some very positive advances in the lamb and wool industry in Ohio. And then the opportunity for poultry came around. We all worked together very closely in Ohio agriculture. So while we all may compete for that meat or protein on the plate, we all realize we're in this together, and so we want to make sure that we promote all of Ohio agriculture. And so I had worked with the poultry folks, I got to know them pretty well, and the opportunity came around and so I threw my name into the mix for that and everything came together and here I am today.


Libby Wixtead (04:01):Yes, we have seen that all the different associations work so well together in the state of Ohio, and that's why we are a very strong state in a lot of our industries. So can you share what stands out at your time with OPA? You have been a leader in this since 2003, so what stands out in those years?


Jim Chakeres (04:27):I think the industry is one of the... I kind of look at it as, it seems that things happen to poultry first when they hit agriculture. And so we've seen about everything and we know that there's more to come in terms of change. So we embrace change. And so I'm proud of the path that we have taken and working with our farmer leaders to develop new strategies and new programming to change everything the way we basically do. We have had some challenges and we changed the way that we care for our birds. Not that they're cared for much differently, but systems and times and how we house birds change with the science that's available and what's available to us. So we've helped the industry adjust and grow with that.


(05:19):We've had some health challenges to our flocks. So avian influenza, those types of things, have hit hard in Ohio the past few years. So we've got a strong responsibility to help educate our producers in how to protect their flocks and then how to better prepare for those types of situations that because the disease is carried by wild birds, we may not be able to 100% prevent it. We're going to do our best, but how do we deal with it if it happens and recover, and then how do we communicate that to the consumers so they understand what's happening? Because we want to be part of a very transparent food system.


Libby Wixtead (05:59):Yeah, I was part of when avian flu came out when we had to shut down the poultry shows for the fairs. And I think that was good for 4-Hers and FFA kids to understand that this industry is bigger than just the birds that you're taking to the fair. And that was, I actually was a showmanship judge that year with my little boy, and chicken that I had. And it was just nice to be able to educate those 4-H kids and have that understanding of this is a lot more than just what you're looking at. And you guys reach out a lot to the 4-H and have those resources available on your website for those kids that are going, and it's a little different because they're going to their local hatchery and they don't always see that big idea, that big industry.


Jim Chakeres (06:49):And I think that that's a good point because we look at it as one industry, and while we may be charged with feeding the world, and that's important and we are going to do our best to accomplish that mission, sometimes it all starts with the local 4-H and FFA members. Because they're our future leaders, they're the future people who are going to be part of this industry. So that's important. We need to educate those people. But they're all going to be consumers in the future and they're all going to have neighbors that they're going to talk to and hopefully, they have positive experiences and can understand their part of a greater food system. So it's equally our responsibility to communicate with them so they have the information they need to share our story on our behalf.


Libby Wixtead (07:40):And they'll probably be the ones who most likely have your backyard chicken flock. I mean, that's really exploded here in the last couple of years. I know I have friends that never were involved in ag and they're like, "Oh, let's go get a chicken coop and have some chickens and some eggs," and not having the realization of everything that could come along with that.


Jim Chakeres (07:58):Yeah, there are a lot of challenges there that we are learning to deal with, as well. But that's it, agriculture is changing and ever-expanding.


Libby Wixtead (08:07):So let's dive into a little bit more of those challenges that the producers could be facing and in 2024, obviously, disease pressure is still one of them. I mean, is avian flu really the number one disease that you guys are looking at or are there any other diseases that are putting some more pressure on your producers?


Jim Chakeres (08:27):Well, avian influenza and in particular the highly pathogenic strains that we've seen recently are just a monumental concern. It does result in complete depopulation. It's devastating. So we want to make sure that we educate producers, and inform them about how to best prepare for a situation, and how to best protect their flocks, and we also want an uninterrupted safe food supply and an affordable food supply. So all of that goes into that, and that's important.


(09:00):So biosecurity is key. How we protect our flocks, how we keep diseases out. It used to be that we'd love to take visitors to the farms and we just can't do that anymore, so we have to find different ways to educate the consumers or the public about what's happening on that farm so that they still feel connected while we can still protect the birds. And so that's what's most important is protecting those flocks. So it's changed how we operate. The good thing about biosecurity is it also helps to keep out some of those other diseases that you referenced. There is an ongoing list of disease challenges that are out there. As we discover new things, as we see things differently, as we have new tools in our bird care toolbox, we learn about how we're best going to diagnose the birds, how we're observing them on a daily basis, what information we're recording and keeping to help us make sure that those birds are safe.


(10:05):And so yes, there are several diseases we look at, but that avian influenza, boy, that's the one that's got all our attention right now. And it's tied to migratory birds and we're getting ready for spring migration to start, and so it's kind of a scary time.


Libby Wixtead (10:19):Yeah, because it's so devastating, it is scary. And it seems like, even I have a swine contract myself, and it seems like even with the swine industry, it's like those darn birds. It's like they're just so frustrating in our production ag and just trying to keep those diseases away and just to have that safe product, like you said.


Jim Chakeres (10:45):And that's why you hear us constantly, yes, we work with the larger farms and the commercial farms to protect those flocks, but we want everyone, even with those small backyard flocks you referenced earlier, to protect them, as well. Especially during these peak migration systems, bring your birds inside. When they have outside access, when they can co-mingle with wild birds, that's when you're most at risk. And I'm here to tell you that a bird is a bird is a bird, and they have as much risk of developing avian influenza as the chicken inside the coop on a commercial farm. Just because you have a small flock does not mean that your bird's immunity is different. It's not. So make sure and protect those birds, bring them in, and protect your family's flock.


Libby Wixtead (11:36):So you had mentioned biosecurity. How has that changed from before and the really big pressure from avian influenza, how has that changed to now and what can producers do now to keep that disease pressure out? And then also, is there anything that, you talked about bringing the birds in for the backyard flocks. Is there anything more that people could do other than just bringing those birds in?


Jim Chakeres (12:06):Sure. I think that some of the same practices that we see on the large farms apply to the small farms, as well. At the most highest level of biosecurity, some of our farms are shower in and shower out, so they're completely protected. But at a minimum, change your footwear when you go into the barn. Keep a dedicated pair of barn shoes, change them at the door, or we call it a Danish entry where you have to step over. Don't wear the clothes that you're wearing to the barn when you're going to be around other birds or swine because they can also carry different influenzas. Other animals, anything, I caution everyone, everyone wants to have a barn cat, but keep the cats out of your barn because believe it or not, they can carry disease. The same thing, rodent control is extremely important because the rodents can cause the disease as well.


(13:12):The wild birds, the songbirds that may be roosting in your barns, the sparrows, whatever, they all are vectors that could be bringing disease in. And limit the visitors to your farm. If someone is coming and you've got to have an electrician in your barn, ask them, "Have you been on another farm with livestock or birds for 72 hours? If you have, maybe you need to come back another day when you haven't." And even if you haven't, provide them with shoe covers or boots that they can wear over their shoes so that they're not bringing disease in, as well.


Libby Wixtead (13:54):Okay. Those are some really great tips. We are going to dive into manure management and what that looks like for a poultry farm. Again, I said earlier that I have a swine contract barn, and I kind of know what goes into that. What goes into manure management for anybody that would have a poultry contract barn or just the larger farms that have a lot of manure?


Jim Chakeres (14:20):We look at manure as a resource and manure as a product. Poultry manure has value. We are fortunate that it is a drier manure so it can be transported to a place that can use the value of the nutrients in that manure. I think manure management begins with planning in terms of construction and building. How are you going to hold the manure? How can we best capture the nutrients that are there? Manure management is a daily activity, so in many of our contracts or our larger barns, the manure is moved on a daily basis to a storage building. And that allows us to then distribute that manure or move it when it's permissible by Ohio regulatory laws that allow us to spread manure on the ground. We want to make sure that we're not spreading when there's a chance of rain on frozen or snow-covered ground. All of that is important to us, so the poultry industry is going to follow all of those regulations that have been established.


(15:29):And as I said, we're fortunate that we have for some of the larger farms producing a lot of manure, there are brokerages that are actually selling the manure for them to regain some of that value and we can put the nutrients back in the ground where they're needed. We also stress the value of soil tests and making sure that we are applying the correct nutrients to the right place at the right time. And so all of that comes together for a very strong nutrient management program. And that's, I think, the holistic approach that we take to that. It's part of every day overall how we manage our farms and our flocks. The poultry farmers wake up every day thinking about how they're going to care for those birds, but they're also thinking about how they're best going to care for the environment. They all live in the areas where their farms are, and so that's important to them, as well. And our goal is to be the best, most transparent neighbors possible.


Libby Wixtead (16:32):They really are stewards of their land. Because a lot of them, I'm sure, have land that they're even using their own manure on that they have that they're spreading. And I know several of our customers use the chicken manure as another place to fertilize their farms and it is a very, very, very valuable asset that we are able to have from these farms. Can you share, you've talked a lot about consumers and how you guys are reaching out to the consumers, so can you let us know in your role being a champion of the poultry industry, how do you guys reach your producers and the public with your messaging?


Jim Chakeres (17:13):Well, I think from a reaching the producer standpoint, we're very fortunate that we have a strong relationship with all of our members, all of the producers in Ohio. And most of them are working through different networks of family farms if they're contract growers with various different poultry companies that are out there. And the vast majority of all of our farms are family-owned, so we have relationships with those families. And so we work with them and try to get our bird health information out there, how to protect your birds, the environmental information. We want to make sure that we arm them with the most information possible, and we have direct lines of communication with all of them. So to me, that's the easier one of the two.


(17:59):Reaching consumers in today's world is sometimes not easy, but I think we have an amazing opportunity that everyone eats and everyone is connected through food. I love food. I love to cook. I love to showcase how to cook and prepare the foods, but I also love to share the message behind it. So if we can connect with our consumers through food, that's number one. So we have a very robust, in today's world, social media outreach. That's where we reach a lot of people. We have partnerships with sports marketing, with Ohio State University and working with the football, basketball, hockey programs and reaching people through those messages. Nutrition is important. Everyone wants to eat healthier, so that information comes into play, and poultry and eggs are great and fit into all of those health halo needs that people have.


(19:02):And so once we can connect on food and nutrition, then I think the next logical step is how we start talking about the farmer's story and how we then connect with how the food is produced and the people behind it. We are getting ready to launch a brand new series on social media that we call “Humans of Ohio Poultry.” So we are going to highlight the people behind it. These may not be the people in charge, but it may be the truck driver or it may be the person that's in the barn every day with the chickens or the turkeys, or it may be a veterinarian, or maybe it's the person that's packing eggs or is working with the USDA grader. It's the people behind the scenes that we feel it's important to share the behind the scenes of what we do to kind of put a human component inside it. Because while we all are scientific based and we come back on science, a lot of today's world and decisions come down to emotion. So I think we need to understand our consumers, but they need to understand the farm, as well. And it's our job to best help them do that.


Libby Wixtead (20:22):Yeah, and the people that are in all of those roles are so important because they are the ones that, even though they're not necessarily caring for the animals, they are the ones that are taking your product and caring for the product to deliver it to your house and how it gets there. I think that is so important. And you guys have, I was very impressed with your guys' website. You have so many resources on your website, so many videos highlighting some farmers and even you guys have the recipes and how to properly prepare your meals. And I think that, I mean, that right there I think is a great way that you guys reach your consumers, as well, that they have that resource.


Jim Chakeres (21:04):Yeah, I think so too. As a matter of fact, today we've got a group of social media influencers coming in that we're going to help educate them about Ohio's egg, turkey, and chicken industry so that then they can share the message with all of their followers. And so it's that combined outreach and if there's a new way to do it and if it's out there, we're all about it. We're going to explore it and see if it works for us.


Libby Wixtead (21:34):For our listeners out there, I highly recommend you guys follow the Ohio Poultry Association on social media and just check out their website like we've talked about. There's a lot of great resources out there. And even if you are looking at how to market or do any social media marketing, they do a very, very nice job. This will be a funny question a little bit here at the beginning. If you have a crystal ball, where do you see the industry heading in the next 20 years?


Jim Chakeres (22:07):I would love to have a crystal ball. And unfortunately, I don't, but just looking upon my past experience in how I see that the poultry and egg industry embraces change and how we constantly want to improve what we do, we want to make a better food product for the world because we feed more than just Ohioans or Americans. I think we're going to embrace that change. I think we're going to continue to become more efficient. We're going to become more sustainable. I think those are all things that we look to. They're not just buzzwords, they're reality. And so how are we going to produce more food with less resources, but do it in a very responsible way? And so I know for a fact that the poultry industry has been a leader in that area in the past, and I believe we're going to continue and pave the way for the future. And so we are going to embrace all opportunities that allow us to get there and we're going to continue to feed the world.


Libby Wixtead (23:25):Yes, it's an ever-changing world, and it seems like that change happens so quickly and agriculture seems to just always be just a little bit behind, but if we can just keep up and just keep changing and like you said, having those social media influencers coming in, I mean, you guys are right there keeping up and really trying to keep up with what we're changing and keeping up with raising poultry responsibly and sustainably. I think that's really going to be what the future is.


Jim Chakeres (23:57):I'm looking forward to it.


Libby Wixtead (23:59):Me too. Thank you for joining us today. We will have a link to the Ohio Poultry Association's website in the show notes where you guys can find, again, lots of information that we discussed today. I was also on there today and saw that there are several job openings at a lot of the poultry farms, so if you guys are young beginning farmers and you guys are in high school, go ahead and check that out, too. All of ag, it really does need people and labor, and so go ahead and check that out as well. That will do it for another episode of AgCredit Said It. Be sure to tune in to our next episode.


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