SALEM, Ore. — When James Hermes came to Oregon State University’s poultry department 31 years ago, big company buyouts, cage-free egg production and stringent antibiotic restrictions were not issues.
Today, as enters his last full academic year as Oregon State University Extension’s poultry specialist, Hermes is dealing with all three.
Born in North Carolina, Hermes earned an associate’s degree in science from Palomar Community College and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in avian sciences and a Ph.D. in genetics in 1988 from the University of California-Davis.
“I was originally interested in hawks and then game birds instead of chickens but I couldn’t get into graduate school with hawks and there was no significant employment (related to) game birds,” Hermes said. “Because of that, I got involved in what at the time was called poultry husbandry. I changed my major from zoology to avian science, got my degree in hatchery work and incubation and came to Oregon State as an extension agent and then specialist.”
He spends 80 percent of his time teaching and 20 percent advising growers, judging contests and leading workshops on the OSU Extension side. He is currently participating in a three-year pastured poultry program with UC-Davis.
As fewer, larger companies raise chickens in Oregon, the business has changed, he said.
“My ties with the chicken business are reduced, partly because of my job and partly because the chicken people don’t meet any more,” Hermes said.
The switch to cage-free operations by 2025 will also be challenging, he said.
“The cage-free deadline is going to be a tough one to meet because it is very expensive to changeover,” he said. Current cage facilities can’t be modified, he said, so existing buildings are going to have to be pushed down and rebuilt.
“Each company has its own schedule and everyone is doing a little bit — 10 percent the first year, 20 percent the second year and so on,” he said. “At a cost of $40 to $50 a bird and you have a million birds, we obviously are going to be paying more for eggs.”
Restrictions on antibiotics is another change poultry farmers face, he said.
“As to what’s going to happen now with new restrictions on the use of pharmaceuticals, is anybody’s guess. We don’t know what will happen when these egg layers are put on the floor and/or outside where they will be subjected to parasites and bacteria that have never challenged their immune systems before,” he said. “We are definitely in a transition period and we’re going to have to do things differently. My veterinarian friends tell me the new learning curve is going to be steep.”
It remains to be seen who will take over Hermes’ OSU Extension duties and work with 4-H and FFA students and judge contests at the state fair when he retires with plans to raise his beloved game birds at the end of 2019.
“I have a small farm outside of Philomath where I can build pens for up to 1,000 pheasants, chuckers and other games birds if I decide to do that,” Hermes said. “My wife may shoot me because she’s not looking forward to spending our retirement tied to the farm. Hopefully, I can hire some willing students to pitch in so we can get away. After that, it will be helping my daughters get over not being on duty in the chicken booth when Ag Fest rolls around.”
For more information, contact OSU Department of Animal Rangeland Sciences at 541-737-2254 or email email@example.com