North Carolina poultry farmer Steven Brake has debuted a new Poultry Learning Center at his family farm. The new educational facility hosts students and other guests in the community who would like to know more about poultry farming on topics such as biosecurity, poultry feed, house management, and bird health.
Brake, a second-generation poultry farmer whose father grew chickens for Perdue for nearly 30 years, has been growing chickens for Perdue since 1995, and has a total of eight Perdue poultry houses today. His four daughters are each involved in the family business, the eldest of whom is studying agriculture at NC State University. Building on their passion for poultry farming, the family built and opened an educational center in one of their chicken houses that includes a large viewing room where guests and students can observe and learn about the birds undisturbed in their environment.
The Brakes are the third Perdue farm family to open a Poultry Learning Center on their farm and were inspired to construct theirs after learning about similar projects from other Perdue farmers at the company’s annual Animal Care Summit in 2019.
“After speaking with other farmers who had opened Learning Centers on their farms, it opened my eyes to a lot of things. I realized the importance of sharing who we are as farmers and how we care for our animals, because there is a lot of misinformation out there,” said Steven Brake, Perdue Farms poultry farmer. “We love what we do and want to help inform both adults and kids about where their food comes from. It’s one thing to tell people what we do; it’s more meaningful if we can let them see it for themselves.”
Brake has focused on making his farm’s Learning Center educational for students of all ages. He and the farm’s live production manager, Crystal, collaborate to give tours to local elementary, middle, and high school classes, and agriculture, animal science, and bioengineering students from multiple surrounding colleges and universities including North Carolina State University, Mount Olive University, and Edgecombe Community College. Brake’s sister, Vickie, who is a teacher, helped create one-of-a-kind teaching standards that work in congruence with the tours so that teachers can create relevant curriculums and tests for their classes.
“These field trips are a great way to get kids out of the classroom and gives us a chance to show them what poultry farming is about. That’s our purpose: we want to educate. Teachers can download the educational standards for their curriculums, teach it in the classroom, and even give tests after the farm tour,” said Brake. “Farming is an applied science with many complexities, so we demonstrate how various concepts work on our farm, such as heat transfer as part of our climate control management in the chicken houses.”
“Several years ago, we at Perdue charted a new course for our company in a number of key areas, especially for the animals in our care and the family farmers who raise those animals. Part of this plan prioritizes transparency with all our stakeholders, inviting oversight, teaching the next generation, and regularly reporting on our progress,” said Mark McKay, president of Perdue Poultry and Premium Meats. “This educational center that Steven Brake and his team have built is perfectly aligned with Perdue’s plan for the future; they run a farm that shows the very best of what it means to take care of the animals and is specifically designed to foster discussion and openly demonstrate the progress that we all are making.”
Materials and labor to build the Brake’s new learning center were donated by Tommy Herring, president of Hog Slat Inc., a family-owned livestock equipment manufacturer and supplier.