Poultry science graduate helps feed the world from her small hometown

Published: March 05, 2020
Updated: March 06, 2020
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“Protein for all” is the driving idea behind 2015 poultry science graduate Sarah Wilbourn’s desire for success. For Wilbourn, poultry science is more than “working with chickens,” it is the cultivation of innovative solutions for the agricultural industry.

Wilbourn praises the Department of Poultry Science for teaching students all aspects of the industry, from the sciences to agribusiness aspects to best farming practices. She also minored in hunger studies and ties in knowledge she developed in courses like human geography, agriculture policy and trade and community development.

“There is biology, biochemistry and organic chemistry,” Wilbourn said. “I wasn’t just learning about the hard sciences of the bird, poultry physiology, nutrition, processing and health; I was also learning about social science—why is chicken such a cheap protein? Economics, all sorts of things. You learn how this process works.”

Wilbourn is now the mid-south regional sales manager for Wayne Farms, an integrated poultry producer and processing operation headquartered near Atlanta. She is based out of the company’s Decatur, Alabama, facility near her hometown of Danville.

“My husband is also from Danville, and we both feel blessed to be back home,” Wilbourn said. “My boss was kind enough to allow me to move back home and still continue my work that I started with the company at the corporate office. We both feel a real sense of responsibility to be stewards for our families and community.”

She has applied that strong ethic to her job with Wayne Farms, working with brokers, distributors and customers “from New Orleans to Pittsburgh” to meet their foodservice needs with the company’s prepared food products.

“I’ve had great mentors and customers who have taught me so much, and I genuinely enjoy working with our team and our customers,” she said. “The poultry industry has a massive impact in feeding the world and on the global economy.”

Wilbourn takes her chosen career to heart and sees her role as one of providing consumers with an abundant and nutritious food supply, utilizing her background in hunger studies at Auburn.

“It is one thing to process, intellectually, what animal productivity means,” she said, “but is an entirely separate thing to understand that it impacts people in a very real way.

“The best way to feed people is to have high productivity, and we must take care of our animals. Animal welfare and productivity go hand in hand. Chickens must be fed with properly mixed feed and monitored closely, be transported safely and processed efficiently.”

Wilbourn came to Auburn on a poultry science scholarship funded by alumni, but her entry into the major might seem odd since no one in her family had worked in the industry.

“I had neighbors and friends in the poultry industry, and I wanted a career in agriculture because I observed early on in life that it mattered,” she said. “Poultry science was a great fit for me because of my experience and the major influences on my life in high school.”

During her time at Auburn, Wilbourn was part of the Student Government Association representing the College of Agriculture as vice president. She was also part of the Poultry Science Club and helped host alumni events, such as the Dean’s Club Tailgate and the Agriculture Hall of Honor banquets.

“My time at Auburn was so much more than an academic endeavor,” she said. “I will take with me forever the contacts I developed by engaging in university and College of Agriculture events; the soft skills I developed while leading in organizations; and the tenacity I developed by giving all of it my best.”

After graduation, Wilbourn took a position at United Egg Producers as director of animal welfare, followed by a stint as a strategic alliance manager at American Humane. Wilbourn worked with poultry producers and industry stakeholders to develop and implement animal welfare strategy and administer animal welfare programs.

She joined Wayne Farms in 2017 in foodservice distribution sales and advanced to regional sales manager in 2019.

“Students need to realize that in a flash you will be sitting in front of a customer or coworker or congressman,” she said. “You will realize that pushing yourself in these short few years was worth it. Finish well. Don’t coast to the finish line, sprint. You’ll be so thankful you made the absolute most of your time at Auburn.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.