Women in Poultry: Debbie Fisher

Learn more about Debbie Fisher Technical Service Manager for Aviagen in Australia and New Zealand
calendar icon 25 March 2024
clock icon 7 minute read

Whether she is getting dirty on a chicken farm or collaborating with customers or colleagues in an office setting, Debbie Fisher is in her element, as she is living out her passion: finding and sharing the best solutions for optimizing the health, welfare and productivity of Aviagen® birds. With three decades of service to the poultry industry, Debbie is currently the Technical Service Manager for Aviagen in Australia and New Zealand. Before that, she gave excellent support to customers throughout Asia.

Please introduce yourself and describe your current role and responsibilities

    I am responsible for providing advice and support to our Aviagen customers across Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. My role covers many areas, from husbandry advice and assistance, to supporting our customers to achieve the best performance the Ross® 308 has to offer. I pass on the latest news and information, and also provide training for their teams on all things chicken -- from bird management, to biosecurity and animal welfare, and all the bits in between. I also keep in regular contact with my large Aviagen family of specialists based around the globe, and connect our customers to them when needed. They help our region keep up to date with the latest information and husbandry techniques. I also like to see what is happening in their part of the world with their chickens.

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

    Well that was by accident really. I had started my first year at the university, but decided I wasn’t really interested in school anymore, so I left and got a job. A friend helped me find work collecting eggs on a Parent Stock (PS) farm. What was going to be a quick 2-3 month job has turned into a 30-year career. I spent the first 20 years going from egg collector to National Breeder Manager, and all the jobs in between. I learned a lot during my journey from PS rearing and laying, farm turnarounds and cleaning to Farm Manager, Broiler Service, Livestock and Processing Planner, and finally back to Breeders. This broad experience gave me a firm foundation to build on when I left and began work with Aviagen Asia.

    What individuals or organisations in poultry have you found particularly inspirational?

      While many people have helped me learn, develop and grow into the chicken person I am today, two stand out. The man who employed me as an egg collector, and remained my boss for those first 20 years, also gave me the knowledge and skills I need to do my job today. Muhannad Juma, Farming Operations Manager, Inghams Enterprises (NZ) Pty Ltd, has been and still is a great role model and friend. The second inspiration to me is Dr. Margaret MacKenzie. Margaret was, until her retirement, the Technical Services Manager for Inghams Enterprises Pty Ltd. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience and was and still is highly respected within the industry here. Margaret showed us that a woman can sit in a senior position within a large poultry integrator and have a voice that is listened to. It is great to see quite a few women in these senior roles around Australia and New Zealand today, but I see Margaret as one of those first pioneers who were knocking down doors and shattering glass ceilings in the 80s and 90s. She was also the person who nudged me out of my comfortable little nest and out into the big world when it was time to spread my wings and learn new things, and we still keep in touch. 

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

        My life at Aviagen began in 2013 when I moved into my first Technical Services role in the Asia region. I was offered an opportunity to share my knowledge and skills by working in different countries across Asia. It was scary to take that jump into the unknown, but at the same time I didn’t want to look back and think “what if?” This move led to an amazing five years of learning and seeing new ways of growing chickens, while creating great friendships along the way. 2018 saw my move back to the ANZ region, also doing Customer Service, but this time across Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Some people I knew from my past life; others I didn’t. But in the last five years, I have been fortunate to develop great customer connections and friendships, while assisting where I can to help improve or troubleshoot areas of their operation.

        Describe a typical day for you?

          No day is the same for me. A big part of my role is visiting customers at their operations – be it on farms, in hatcheries, in board rooms or in offices. One day I can be in gumboots and smelling like a chicken shed, and the next day I can be standing in a meeting room giving a presentation. But the part I enjoy most is the cup of coffee with the Farm Manager and their team, having a chat about chickens. This is when we can really throw around ideas and catch up on what has been happening through the growing and laying cycle. I only get to see a snapshot of the farms on the day I visit, but these teams grow the birds day in and day out. They can tell me what is happening and let me know how I can help.

          What outstanding challenge facing the poultry industry would you most like to solve?

          I see a lot of knowledge and experience starting to retire, but I’m not seeing enough younger people entering the industry. We have more and more chicken being grown and consumed around the world. What we need is more chicken people to ensure we produce a quality product for the consumer. Automation is becoming more the norm as we get new bigger farms with larger sheds. But what we need most is people to learn how to “read the chickens” with their five senses – to smell the air, listen to them “talk” and watch what they are doing. It is my mission to encourage the next generation and help teach them to become chicken whisperers. Automation is a natural progression as we struggle to source staff and everything is getting bigger, but we need to ensure we have the people in the industry and on farms who can still pick up birds and study their condition to determine what they need, and that is a skill that needs to be learned in the shed by someone who is passionate about the birds.

          What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in your field?

            Don’t be afraid to get in there and get your hands dirty. Girls can do anything, and I mean anything. This industry is constantly growing and changing, and there are so many different paths you can take as your career develops. But don’t ever underestimate what you can do. With solid husbandry skills in your repertoire, you can venture down any career path you choose within the industry. It’s a big poultry world out there, don’t think for a minute you won’t be valued somewhere in it.

            What keeps you entertained when you’re not on the job?

            Well for anyone who like myself travels a lot for work, COVID came along and really readjusted life for two years. A couple of lockdowns later I needed some new hobbies, as I wasn’t used to being home for so long, so I have taken up photography. I live in a beautiful country (NZ) with the beach on my doorstep and a mountain behind me, so plenty of opportunities to get out and take great pictures of nature. When I’m not doing that, it’s family, friends, beach and also another COVID hobby – gardening. You know you are officially getting old when you get excited about growing things. However, I guess that is what I’ve been doing all along. Plants and chickens are a lot alike. They both need careful attention to their needs, along with proper care and respect😊.

            Laurence Williams

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