Dr. Dennis Casey, CEO of the worlds leading layer poultry breeding company speaks exclusively to ThePoultrySite.com
Dr. Dennis Casey
Dr. Dennis W. Casey attended Iowa State University and received his B.S. degree in Agricultural Business in 1964, his Masters degree in Poultry Breeding in 1968, and his Ph.D. in Poultry Breeding and Genetics in 1970.
President, Hy-Line International
Following graduation from Iowa State, Dr. Casey joined Hy-Line International that same year, starting in the Research Department. In 1974, Dr. Casey was named manager of the company's West Coast distribution organization and in 1975 became president of Hy-Line International, a position that he has held ever since.
Among his many achievements, Dr. Casey has played a major role in modernizing the chick distribution system within the United States and has helped restructure the international marketing system toward steady expansion. Dr. Casey has sat on the boards of the Southeastern Poultry and Egg Association and the United Egg Producers Allied Industry Council, and has published several scientific articles.
In 2003, Dr. Casey was the recipient of the United Egg Producers' "Industry Person of the Year" award and in 1999, the Iowa Poultry Association and Egg Industries' "Industry Person of the Year" award. Currently, Dr. Casey is a member of the Poultry Science Association, the World's Poultry Association, the Genetic Society of America, an allied industry advisor to the American Egg Board, member of Sigma Xi, a scientific research society, and is the chairman of the Midwest Poultry Consortium.
Dr. Casey and his wife Maria, reside in Ankeny, Iowa. In his spare time he enjoys golfing and gardening.
For more than 67 years, Hy-Line International has been the leader in the layer breeding industry by expanding the frontiers of genetics and producing the world's best stock.
More than six decades ago, Hy-Line geneticists developed the world's first hybrid egg laying chicken produced on a commercial scale and through the decades have maintained and improved the genetic product through the use of time tested breeding techniques in combination with blood typing and other new genetic innovations to guarantee ongoing genetic superiority and consistency.
Hy-Line International today is not only the world's oldest layer genetics company, but is the industry leader in all facets of our business. From Day One we have lived by our time honored mission statement:
- We will produce the best genetic products possible.
- We will deal honestly and fairly with our customers, employees, and suppliers.
- We will sell our products vigorously, but without misrepresentation.
- We will back up our sales with expert technical support.
Guided by this core commitment, Hy-Line International has developed a presence in the worldwide industry that has never been equaled.
Below are answers to a number of questions our reporter put to Dr. Casey.
Hy-Line products are well known around the world - which parts of the world are you strong and which are you keen to build market share?
North America, Central America and South America are excellent markets where we hold leading shares. In the U.S., Hy-Line market share is over 80%. The Asian market is important to Hy-Line where we have leading market shares in several countries such as Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan.
The majority of the future growth in the layer industry will probably take place in Asia. In Europe we are strong in the U.K., Spain, Portugal and Italy. We fully intend on increasing our European market share and look for significant growth in Eastern Europe and Russia. We also have leading market shares in many African nations, the Middle East and Australia, New Zealand.
Hy-Line Products can be found in over 110 countries today. While we certainly are keen to build world market share our major focus is taking care of the customers we have. If we do this well increased market share will happen.
With the increase in more niche production, such as organic, free-range, different coloured eggs etc, does Hy-Line plan to develop new strains to accommodate this trend?
In general, pursuing the niche markets is not worthwhile for a major breeder. Most of these markets have developed by using available strains, with adjustments in management practices to fit the niche. Organic egg production is a good example. We have developed specific varieties for broad market sectors, for example white egg, brown egg, large egg, small egg and will continue to do this.
The most important growing sector is the alternative systems, which include free-range, litter floors and aviary systems. The principal challenge in this type of unit is cannibalism. Hy-Line has been selecting for reduced cannibalism for many years and we feel that our current varieties are well suited for "alternative" systems.
The number of selection criteria traits that a breeder must now be trying to improve is vast. It is now presumably much more complex than just selecting for egg numbers, livability and feed conversionâ€¦which traits are now top of your list and why?
There are more than 30 traits that we routinely monitor with over 20 of them under active selection each generation. It is important to maintain a balance among these traits. Those that receive the most emphasis in the Hy-Line selection program are those that have the largest economic impact for our customers.
Egg production, livability, feed conversion, interior/exterior egg quality and proper egg weight have been, are today and will continue to be, traits of significant economic impact. In addition, there are many traits beyond these that are taken into consideration in a balanced breeding program.
Does the current extensive knowledge of the avian genome offer more rapid advances in genetics?
Hy-Line established a molecular biology program in 1996 and maintains a dedicated laboratory for this purpose. Our programs major emphasis is on marker assisted selection (MAS). This requires an extensive knowledge of the avian genome. This is an additional tool, which will complement the current tried and proven selection program. The chicken of the future will be better because of the use of MAS. I should add that we are not doing research in the area of transgenics (i.e. developing GMO's).
What are the main future challenges facing a global breeder like Hy-Line?
There are many future challenges and opportunities facing the global layer breeders. World poultry health is an issue from the obvious concerns (i.e. health of our breeder and commercial flocks), but also because it is extremely disruptive in international trade. This will require a diversification of breeding production centers and delivery routes. Food safety is another issue that needs to be a priority of all involved in the egg production industry and this starts with the primary breeders.
Another opportunity that exists is the changing market place. As the needs and requirements of the consumer and commercial industry change the breeder needs to respond and in fact anticipate to effectively develop products that fit the changing needs.
An example of this would be animal welfare concerns, which have led to non-cage environments in some markets and hence a responsibility for layer breeders to develop products that fit the changing management regimes. Another example has been the increase in the egg product industry. This has already led to increased attention to the levels of solids in eggs. Other aspects will be emphasized in the future such as lipid levels.
From a consumer viewpoint what nutritional or eating qualities does the egg offer now compared to the 1930's when Hy-Line was founded?
The nutritional content of the egg has not changed much since the 1930's. There is a built-in element of selection to maintain adequate nutrient levels to permit a baby chick to develop in the egg. However, shell quality has been strengthened, reducing the risk of bacterial contamination. The egg albumin also stands up higher, white shelled eggs are whiter, brown shelled eggs are a more uniform dark brown, and there are less blood and meat spots, so today's egg is more attractive than in the past.
What new technology would you like to see developed to further advance genetic selection enhancement?
There is a need for a better understanding of the genetics of resistance to infectious diseases. This means identification of the chromosomal location and mode of action of resistance genes in the chicken genome. It also means understanding the genetics of the microorganisms that cause these diseases.
The recently completed sequencing of the avian genome and the sequencing of the genome of the pathogen will be a valuable aid in this effort. We must also continue to fund basic research for the isolation and mode of action of the disease related genes.
The number of worldwide layer breeders has declined over the years. Over the years a long list of breeders like Kimber and Honnegar, for example, have been absorbed and we now only have some four or five truly global players. Do you feel this trend will continue or will breeders become more regionally focused?
The egg industry in most parts of the world has very dramatically consolidated. This is true through the entire supply chain from the primary breeder to the commercial egg producer and marketer. This consolidation trend will continue in all phases of the industry including the primary breeders.
The primary breeding industry is a very capital intensive business. This begins with the investment in a research and development program, which is truly a long-term commitment. Following the product development a production infrastructure needs to be in place to facilitate making the most recently developed genetics become commercial reality. This all requires a worldwide international focus.
Having just returned from Iowa and experienced the very cold weather this winter do you feel your descendents of the jungle fowl would welcome a return to their roots?
No. They have never had life so good. They are protected from the harsh environmental climates such as cold, heat, rain, snow and the predators of this world. They are fed a diet that meets their nutritional requirements and have access to fresh water. And they are protected against poultry health challenges. We have a great deal of admiration and respect for our jungle fowl descendents.
Source: ThePoultrySite's intrepid interviewer - March 2004