In August 2016, the Michigan State University laying-hen research facility lost one of its biggest proponent – Darrin Karcher. Present when the MSU facility was built and then completing years of research there; Karcher decided it was time to move to another land of golden opportunity.
“Yep, that was my baby; that said, I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead,” stated Karcher, the new assistant professor and poultry extension specialist at Purdue University. Purdue is a land of untapped opportunities according to Karcher. Considering the move from the standpoint of industry numbers alone, it is easy to see his perspective. Indiana is the U.S. leader in duck production and the number four producer of both laying hens and turkeys. “This is a huge jump for me.”
Although his location changed, Karcher says his day-to-day focus will remain much the same. “My position here is focused on applied research and extension.” Extension work will continue to include presentations and programs to help producers but Karcher indicated that right now he is focused on evaluating what is available and needed and then will align items to fill the gaps. “With extension you work with everyone from the backyard producer to the commercial industry. My goal [in Indiana extension] is to elevate everyone’s level of skill and success.”
Karcher has specific research goals, too. While his applied research focus will remain hen housing and its effect on numerous facets like animal welfare, production, management, nutrition, food safety, egg quality and environment; right now he needs to get through the transition of moving from one program to another. Currently he has one project still underway at MSU and another is starting up at Purdue so that means things will stay interesting for a while.
The ongoing research at MSU is scheduled to conclude around December of 2016. Funded by the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture, this project looks at a proof of concept that may help producers with full pullet houses not have to depopulate healthy birds in the event that a layer facility isn’t ready. The objective is to evaluate the impact of a molt at the onset of lay on the subsequent hen performance and well-being. “This would have been hugely helpful to some producers during last year’s avian influenza outbreak but that is not the research’s only applicable situation.”
A little closer to home and just getting underway at Purdue’s research facility is another project Karcher is spearheading. This project evaluates the impact of ectoparasite infestation on egg production and the natural shedding of Salmonella Typhimurium and Salmonella Heidelberg when in an aviary housing system. Overall, the goal is to understand how management practices can challenge and influence cage-free production. Karcher also indicated he will continue his work with his colleagues from Minnesota on their USDA grant investigating footpad and gait issues related to turkey well-being.
And as if learning the extension landscape in a new region and completing research projects in various states isn’t enough, Karcher also has work to do to settle into his new home with this wife Liz, assistant professor of Animal Science and Undergraduate Program Coordinator at Purdue, his three daughters and 10 month old twins. When not reporting on the behavior of chickens, he is often found observing the behavior of one daughter leaping through the air at dance and two others who like to jump in gymnastics. “As for the twins, they are in army crawl mode.” Leaping, jumping and crawling – sounds just about like a day at the layer research farm.
The Egg Industry Center wishes Darrin and his wife, the very best during this transition as they settle into their new “style of housing.”