Through her childhood experiences in Nepal, located in southeast Asia, Dr. Pratima Adhikari gained a passion for the poultry industry and the English language. Now, she is an Associate Professor within the Department of Poultry Science at Mississippi State University and leading a research lab of six graduate and several undergraduate students that will help carry the egg industry into its future.
As a child, Adhikari’s parents always stressed the importance of education, so she went to an English-speaking school that presented all her education materials in English. At the same time, her grandparents and uncle had a small-scale broiler operation, which provided an introduction to the poultry world, where she discovered her love for the industry. “My favorite thing to do as a kid was going to his grow out facility and looking into his barns; I found it so fascinating,” Adhikari said. The family not only raised broilers but also processed them, so she was able to experience the whole process from start to finish. However, the processing was different than here in the U.S. because they stopped processing at the whole carcass stage.
Adhikari’s path of higher education started at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, Nepal where she received both her bachelor’s and DVM. Here, her interest in nutrition was sparked, but she knew a career in the nutrition field would require, a Master’s and probably a Ph.D. This led her to apply for a graduate student research assistantship at Canada’s University of Manitoba.
She was accepted and once in Canada, she joined Dr. Martin Nyachoti’s lab which was focused on swine and poultry. “My thesis revolved around swine because that’s mostly what we worked on, but I continued to strengthen my poultry knowledge from Dr. Nyachoti and my fellow lab mates,” Adhikari stated.
After finishing her M.S. at the University of Manitoba, Adhikari moved to the University of Georgia (UGA) to receive her Ph.D. in poultry nutrition. Her major advisor, Dr. Woo Kim, helped to further feed her passion for the poultry industry. “I was able to gain all my poultry expertise and knowledge there,” said Adhikari. UGA involved Adhikari heavily in the poultry industry both in the classroom and outside of it. She had the opportunity to present her research as a student at the International Poultry Scientific Forum held at IPPE, in Atlanta. She was also able to start attending Poultry Science Association meetings. She also assisted several workshops while at UGA. She credits various networking opportunities with helping her find a job after receiving her Ph.D. in poultry nutrition.
“I knew I wanted to continue to work in academia and use my expertise with laying hens,” said Adhikari. Adhikari was hired as an Assistant Professor within the Department of Poultry Science at Mississippi State University in August 2017. Her position includes an appointment for 60 percent research and 40 percent teaching, both of which focus on her expertise in layer nutrition and management. She teaches at least two classes every year. One of her classes is a graduate-level class based on Advanced Poultry Nutrition, which focuses on vitamins, minerals, proteins and enzymes within a laying hens’ diet. The second class gives a basic overview of commercial layer management. She likes to incorporate industry colleagues as guest lecturers for her management course, so the students gain an understanding of the industry and academic viewpoint on topics.
For the past six years, her research has focused on better enhancing hen nutrition and management. Adhikari says that one of the key moments in her career was a study she did on the effects of feeding protease and different amino acid levels on the performance and egg quality in laying hens. That study was funded by the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association and since then, Adhikari has received two more grants from the organization. Adhikari’s other funding sources are allied industries and alternative feed ingredient boards.
Adhikari believes that her most impactful project has been looking at the combined effects of limestone particle size and phytase supplementation on the performance and bone strength, development and quality in layers at early and late lay. This study measured the impact of calcium particle sizes in the gut and gizzard in early and late phase feeding.
“Before this study, the layer industry did not have any information on the effects of a phytase super dose,” said Adhikari. “Since layers are a more mature bird you don’t have the ability to influence certain things with nutrition like you do in an immature bird, like broilers. This is why you must allow for more than a one or two weeks in a feeding trial to allow laying hens to adjust to their new diet before you see results.”
Adhikari’s student that worked on the phytase study received top paper awards from the International Poultry Scientific Forum and the Poultry Science Association. “That has been exciting to be a part of,” said Adhikari.
Adhikari’s work with students is a major part of her story and why she continues to work on the academic side of the industry. After data collection is complete, her favorite part is getting to look at and interpret data with her students. She feels it’s good for them to have to have the basic experience of presenting their research to others. Her students are like her family, and she loves to mentor them and make an impact in their lives.
Adhikari wants others to know that there is a lot of room for advancement within the laying hen industry. “Laying hen research is very captivating,” said Adhikari. “There are many opportunities provided within the industry that many people do not know about. The laying hen life cycle provides a lot of room to work within different stages of production. The pullet, peak laying cycle, and extended life stages provide numerous opportunities for advancement from a nutrition intervention side of things.”
Story by Ashlyn Frederick