Women in Agriculture: Amy Batal
Animal production has always fascinated Amy Batal. Growing up in Agoura Hills, California, she worked at a ranch throughout high school. Batal graduated college with an animal sciences degree from California Polytechnic State University, went on to Iowa State University for a master’s degree in animal nutrition, and then earned her Ph.D in the same subject – all in less than 10 years.
For the last three years, Batal has worked at Sanderson Farms in the role of Nutritionist. As Sanderson Farms’ Corporate Nutritionist, Batal oversees all aspects of the feed the company gives to its chickens. She collaborates with Sanderson Farms’ purchasers to determine which suppliers to use and monitors the supply to make sure it is up to par. Batal says negotiating with suppliers for the best prices is a part of her job she particularly enjoys.
“I work to ensure that we’re getting only the best ingredients. We don’t buy anything until we have confirmed the source and supply, making sure it meets our quality control standards,” said Batal. “Sanderson Farms is a low-cost producer; however, we are willing to pay more to get the quality ingredients needed to keep our chickens healthy.”
Because Sanderson Farms is vertically integrated, the company maintains complete control over what goes into the feed. Batal is the person responsible for formulating the diet that all Sanderson Farms chickens are fed. She decides which vitamins and minerals, and how many, will be mixed in along with other ingredients, such as corn and soy. In addition to nutrition, Batal’s duties center around production. She works with broilers and breeders and visits family farmers to observe bird health.
“It’s rewarding to see how the diets I created have a positive effect on the animals, whether it’s health or better feed conversion,” said Batal. “We do a lot of research on how to make the most efficient feed. Much of our research is related to animal health.”
Some trends within the poultry industry may be popular with consumers, but detrimental to bird health and environmental sustainability. Batal says that the no antibiotics ever and all-vegetable fed chicken trends are concerning.
“Chickens are not vegetarians. Feeding these birds an all-vegetable diet is not the healthy thing to do,” said Batal. “It’s not best for our environment or the birds. There is a reason that chickens are omnivores in the wild.”
At Batal’s level of management, in nutrition and production, she has few female counterparts across the industry. She says that this gap is less about discrimination and more about women not applying for these types of jobs.
“Women aren’t looking for these positions, because they often aren’t aware of them. There are many opportunities for women in the ag industry, but you have to be your biggest sales person.” said Batal. “You can’t change anyone’s mind by telling them they need to change their mind. The biggest thing women can do to help is work hard, be assertive, and stay confident.”