Dr. Michael Darre entered 2018 facing a new chapter in life: retirement. Darre, a professor in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Connecticut, has spent the last thirty-seven years dedicating his time and efforts to aiding the poultry industry in its development and success.
Growing up in northern Illinois, near Chicago, Darre had both urban and rural living exposure. “I had aunts and uncles who were farmers. Because of that I had a lot of background being around and working with animals. I had the best of both worlds. I spent my winters in the suburbs of Chicago and my summers up on the farm until I was basically fifteen.” This upbringing exposure created an interest and ambition in animal science. Darre attended two different colleges before deciding to enter the military, serving twenty-two months’ active duty during the Vietnam War. Post-service is where his love for research formed. While attending DePaul University part-time, he worked for G.D. Searle pharmaceutical company based out of Skokie, Illinois. “I was a lab tech in the endocrinology laboratory. There, I met other people who had Ph.D.’s in animal science with focuses in endocrinology or physiology,” said Darre. They showed Darre that there was more to either being a professor or working in the animal industry – there are a lot of openings for people with advanced degrees doing research. With this newly found love for research, he finished a bachelor’s degree in animal science at the University of Illinois.
Darre continued his education at the University of Illinois, obtaining both a master’s in animal physiology and a doctorate in environmental animal physiology. Working alongside Dr. Paul Harrison, he found his interest in the avian species. “Dr. Harrison was an avian physiologist, which is mainly what got me interested,” Darre said. A budding interest and appreciation for extension was also accumulated working alongside Dr. Don Bray. “I went on extension calls with Dr. Bray, who was the poultry extension specialist at the time. These calls were farm visits, where we worked on lighting and environmental aspects. I was learning a lot about what was actually happening within commercial farms,” recalls Darre. Attending extension meetings also allowed Darre to witness how meeting impacted the industry and Darre’s interest in applied research was formed. “I loved the concept of explaining the research to the farmers so they understood how to apply it,” states Darre.
After joining the faculty at the University of Connecticut in 1981, Darre dove into research projects and holding workshops for farmers. His two largest areas of focus have been LED lighting within barns and plant-derived antimicrobials. When asked about a project that has made an impact on the egg laying industry, he had no hesitations in his answer. “At this point, I would say the largest impact is proper lighting. Lighting will determine if the hens lay eggs or not.” However, in terms of potential impacts, Darre realizes that in today’s regulatory environment, his project on plant-derived antimicrobials has a plethora of opportunities for the industry moving into the future.
In addition to his research, Darre’s extension work will also leave a legacy. One of the projects he is finishing prior to retirement is a video series. He is hopeful that producers and consumers alike will gain new or additional knowledge about various bird-related subject areas like: handling birds, disease, and inspecting birds.
When asked about the largest misconception about research today, Darre spoke of the concept of publishing only positive results. “Our results are our results. I know that some journals do not want to publish negative results, but I think…people should know. This also gives an opportunity for other people to see what was done so it is not repeated, or to provide thoughts on how it should have been done.” When asked his way of explaining negative results to a non-researcher, Darre simply stated, “This did not work the way we thought it would.” He also emphasized that research should be hypothesis driven.
The importance of honest science was also stressed by Darre. He said, “If we have good, honest scientists, we make progress in a lot of areas. I think the public still thinks we are pumping hormones and drugs into chickens to make bigger broilers and more eggs, but nothing could be further from the truth. That comes from the distrust and the thought that science is in the back pocket of industry. I think we have to let people know that without science – good science – there is no progress.” He summarized by saying, “Without science, we would never find cures for cancer or AIDS. Even the growth we have made in the genetics of our avian species is just astounding. The public needs to understand the importance of science and research.”
Upon retirement, Darre has no plans to slow down. “There is no such thing as free time. I am married with a wife who has what she calls a honey-do list and it gets longer and longer every day.” In terms of academia, he plans to stay involved. “I will still be active in industry. I still have a few research projects that I am a part of here, so I will be able to work with my colleagues here at University of Connecticut as an emeritus professor.” Darre will also continue work with Aviagen, as well as some law firms.
The Egg Industry Center thanks Dr. Darre for his efforts in both research and education relating to the poultry industry, more specifically lighting, over the last thirty-seven years. Have a wonderful retirement!
By Myla Meyer