Women in Poultry: Dr Natarajan Kavitha


Describe your current role and responsibilities.

As Head of Veterinary Services and Director of our R&D Laboratory, I am responsible for the health and biosecurity of the herd in all operations of Aviagen India. I am also responsible for all work related to R&D and liaise with Indian government scientists on R&D activities. I am very passionate about working with our key customers, providing them with veterinary support to help them develop strong and healthy birds.

What is your background and how did you come to work in the poultry industry?

I come from an agricultural background and have been passionate about breeding since childhood. During my school years, I helped my mother on her farm, which inspired me to pursue a veterinary profession. In college, I got interested in microbiology, and that’s where I did my postgraduate work. I obtained my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from the pioneer veterinary school in India, Madras Veterinary College in Chennai.

After graduation, I held an academic position at the Agricultural University of Tamil Nadu, where, in addition to teaching animal sciences, I took care of the university’s broiler and layer farms. This sparked my interest in poultry and opened up options for me in this industry. During my tenure in Tamil Nadu, I also carried out a project to develop a bio-preservative for the food industry by exploring the antifungal activity of probiotic lactic acid bacteria.

Which people or organizations in the poultry industry have you found particularly inspiring?

i am grateful to Paul Gittins, our senior advisor at Aviagen India, which encouraged me to pursue a career at Aviagen. I continue to learn from Paul on a daily basis as he has a deep knowledge of the industry, the company and our birds. Early in my career, Scott McLeod, who was then our biotechnology project manager, taught me laboratory techniques to the point where I can design a poultry diagnostic laboratory myself!

I am also extremely grateful to Dr Bill Stanley, Director of Global Health Surveillance at Aviagen, and Dr Matthias Voss, Veterinary Scientific Director of LTZ, from whom I learned the basics of biosecurity, poultry health and research. In my current role, I have the chance to work with Marc Scott, Commercial Director Aviagen India, who has extensive knowledge of chicken, and I learned the essentials of poultry production from him. And finally, I am indebted to Dr Udayasurian, who worked as Managing Director at Aviagen India from 2013 to 2020 and is now an Aviagen consultant for his continued support and encouragement.

The Aviagen family is made up of a multitude of incredibly bright minds, and therefore my current and former team members have all been inspiring in so many ways.

When did you come to Aviagen and what inspired you to work there?

I joined Aviagen in 2008 as a laboratory manager. During this time, I worked on the design, construction and implementation of a fully functional diagnostic lab from the ground up, which was both inspiring and challenging. At the same time, I participated in the intense biosecurity efforts that led Aviagen India to obtain avian influenza (AI) free status in 2013. I am happy to be part of a company that does biosecurity a top priority, and many of the company’s global locations have achieved exclusive compartmentalization status.

I would say that overall, the continuous opportunities to learn and share knowledge in a working environment with close connections with colleagues around the world, many of whom are thought leaders in their fields, is one aspect. particularly inspiring work at Aviagen.

How is your role unique?

Due to the unique nature of my role as both health and R&D manager, my mantra is “expect the unexpected”. I have to be proactive and ready at all times to face unexpected challenges from all sides. I led the production team for three years before moving to a full time health post, and I still help the production team with bird management. I think the combination of flock health and diagnostics, R&D and bird management go hand in hand and I’m proud to help in all three areas.

Describe a typical day for you?

It is in the nature of business that very few days are “typical”. My workday begins with a brief chat with my team, to get updates from the day before, prepare for meetings, and collaborate on any other upcoming task or challenge. Because my schedule changes often, I have learned to be flexible. I can visit a farm, interact with a client, or immerse myself in R&D work. There may be an unusual challenge to overcome. Or, I could prepare to visit a government official or lead a training session. What I love about my job is that my days are not typical and that I am ready to face changing and invigorating challenges.

What are the main challenges you face?

Poultry diseases remain a challenge for India and the industry as a whole. Our team’s ongoing mission is to keep our herds healthy and disease-free and to continually improve their biological performance and efficiency. Our success in this area ensures our customers an uninterrupted supply of quality chicks and strengthens their ability to put food on every table for families across our country.

What exceptional challenge for the poultry industry would you most like to take on?

The main challenges in the Indian poultry industry that I would like to focus on are good biosecurity, quality vaccines and antibiotic resistance. To achieve this goal, we work with our clients on comprehensive biosafety programs based on our own experience. Our company is also a pioneer in the country on the forensic use of antibiotics, without prophylactic use of antibiotics for our own birds for four years. This means that we do not use antibiotics for disease prevention, only to treat disease, as we would for ourselves or for our own children.

How did you overcome the challenges as a woman in your field?

At the start of my career, I experienced many challenges as one of the few women in the field. I have faced and overcome them with patience, proving myself and my abilities by effectively and competently fulfilling my roles and responsibilities. In doing so, I strive to be an encouragement to other women in the organization and in the industry.

What advice would you give to women wishing to embark on a career in your field?

My best advice is to be patient. Be passionate about your job, open to opportunities, always take on new challenges and face criticism boldly, learn constructive advice and ignore the rest.

What does the future of poultry genetics look like?

This sounds very exciting, with current research focusing on improving traits for regional needs while further improving feed efficiency, which keeps improving. The progress we have made in feed efficiency contributes greatly to our goal of “Sustainable Livestock”. More efficient birds generate less waste, which means that fewer pollutants are returned to the environment. And, when less food is needed to grow healthy birds, less land is needed to grow food, and that land can be used for environmental conservation or to grow other crops. for the country. Feed efficiency has an economic benefit for producers, as feed is the highest cost in a poultry business, so less feed helps increase their bottom line.

What keeps you entertained when you’re not at work?

I love gardening, with a particular love for houseplants, and explore innovative do-it-yourself craft ideas. My companion dogs also keep me very busy.

What’s the next step for you?

It is very energizing to be part of a growing company that plays such a vital role in feeding the world, and I look forward to coming to work every day. Because Aviagen has global reach, the world is my oyster as a professional woman.


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