People of Poultry: Dr. Doug Korver

Dr. Doug Korver, PhD is retiring after 26 years teaching and mentoring university students, publishing over 75 peer reviewed articles, leading innovative research trials and traveling the world as a speaker, researcher and poultry nutrition expert. He will take three years to phase out of his position as Professor of Poultry Nutrition, Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Science - Ag, Food & Nutritional Science Dept. at the University of Alberta. Read more to learn about his academic journey to the U of A, his passions for teaching, travel and birds and his plans for the future with ongoing research and an exciting new company.

Bird Lover from childhood

Doug Korver was always interested in animals and agriculture. Although he grew up in the town of Lethbridge, AB, he spent a fair part of his childhood in an agricultural setting, on the farms of friends and family.  

He always had an interest in birds, raising homing pigeons as a child. In high school he caught chickens as a way to earn money and the opportunities with poultry developed naturally. He is an avid birdwatcher, currently showcasing 1468 bird species on his Big List. 

Korver entered the University of Lethbridge in a general biology program, with the initial goal of attending veterinary college. He transferred to the U of Saskatchewan for the final three years of his degree and had an opportunity to work with the poultry center both during the year and with summer employment. He enjoyed the exposure to research and hands-on poultry experience, working closely with Dr. Hank Classen while forming a lifelong friendship with Dr. Roy Crawford. Under their mentorship, he recognized the possibility of a rewarding career and enjoyed the sense of community in the poultry groups. 

“It was a great group of people from professors like Hank Classen and Roy Crawford through to the technicians and grad students and undergrads,” said Korver.

Korver’s BSc degree led to a master’s degree at the University of Delaware under the supervision of Bill Saylor. He continued to explore research in poultry nutrition and the focus of his master’s thesis concerned a spike in early mortality with broiler chicks. 

“There were lots of questions around whether it was a communicable disease, or something related to feed quality,” he recalled. “I was looking specifically at fat quality and the impact that oxidized fat had, particularly, on vitamins.” 

After completing his master’s degree, Korver continued to enjoy the discovery and mental challenge presented by poultry research and nutrition. 

“I gained an understanding of what research was about and the kinds of things you could do with the master’s degree and, beyond that, a PhD.” he explained.

Korver was accepted into the PhD program at the University of California, Davis under the supervision of Kirk Klasing. His PhD thesis examined the use of Omega 3 fatty acids to reduce systemic inflammation in broilers. 

After completing his PhD, Korver returned to the U of Saskatchewan in 1996 for a Post-Doctoral Fellowship with Hank Classen until the position of Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta opened up. He joined the faculty of ALES and AFNS in 1997 and was named a Full Professor in 2010. 

Was teaching a goal or did it evolve?

Korver didn’t set out to be a teacher but found that Teaching Assistant (TA) opportunities as a master’s and PhD student, setting up and instructing in labs and giving occasional lectures helped him get his feet wet.

“I think fundamentally teaching fits in with my personality,” mused Korver. “Over time I picked up things, especially from Dr. Frank Robinson, and then developed my own traditional style.  I tend to go off on tangents and ramble through stories that are related to the topic. I think it helps to keep students interested and opens them to possibilities that they may not have considered.”

Success stories with students over the years?

“It’s often the ones that are engaged and asking questions that are also invested in their education and they tend to be the ones that you hear about as success stories down the road,” said Korver. “Students that are looking for opportunities and experiences beyond the classroom with a high level of engagement.”

“It’s really interesting to see how those careers progress and maybe taking a little bit of pride in whatever small part I had in their journey to success.”

Who has inspired you throughout your career?

In addition to the aforementioned professors during his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, U of A poultry professors Dr. Frank Robinson, Dr. Lynn McMullen, Dr. Martin Zuidhof and Dr. John Feddes were fundamental in shaping Doug as a young professional. 

Korver is very involved in the Poultry Science Association (PSA) and was recognized
for his professional achievements by being named a PSA Fellow in 2021. The distinction of Fellow is the highest award bestowed by the Poultry Science Association and is granted for professional contributions to the field of poultry science and service to the Association. The PSA has provided connections and inspiration for Korver, including another mentor.

“There are people you meet along the way that you really learn from, and through the PSA, Mamduh Sifri was one that has had a really positive impact on my career,” said Korver.

In addition to his involvement with the PSA, Korver is a member of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine’s committee to update the Nutrient Requirements of Poultry. This ad hoc committee prepares a report that reviews the scientific literature on the nutrition of poultry and makes recommendations on nutrient requirements with all life phases and types of production addressed.

Family also provides inspiration. Korver married his wife Michelle in 2003 and has two children, Erin, and Joel, who will be pursuing university studies of their own. 

Highlights of Travel 

Korver’s work as a researcher and lecturer have taken him all over North America, Canada, U.S., Mexico, several countries in South America and Central America, Europe, South Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. 

“The only place I haven’t been is Antarctica,” he smiled. “I’m a bird watcher so when I travel, I try to get in an extra day to do some bird watching as well.”

Korver particularly enjoys travel to South America and took his family to Colombia for a six-month sabbatical in 2016.  

“Being marginally able to speak the language, we managed to communicate,” he recalled. “It was a great experience for our family and for my kids growing up and being the minority in a different culture.”

What is it about Colombia in terms of poultry? What’s the draw?

“It’s an interesting industry. Historically, labor has been cheap, so the husbandry is really good, because they have lots of people in the barns with manual feeding and egg collection. There’s eyes on the birds all the time. And then they have well educated people on the technical and veterinary side in management.”

“It was a good opportunity to learn, and I worked with an integrated company with everything from broiler breeders to hatchery, broiler farms to processing plant to rendering plant to feed mill all in one company.” 

Korver participated in field research projects, testing different antibiotic replacements in their conditions.  It gave him an opportunity to learn what a commercial nutritionist does on a regular basis and to get involved in all aspects of their operation. In addition to Colombia, he has other favourite places to visit.

“I really enjoy Thailand,” he said. “I like Bangkok – it’s a big noisy, polluted city but the people are friendly and quite laid back. I also enjoy the food.” 

What research projects are you working on right now? 

“There’s three main things that I’m working on right now. The first one in broilers is related to gut health and to move away from growth promoting antibiotics. We’ve developed a necrotic enteritis challenge model that’s fairly unique because it’s a natural exposure model that mimics the normal development of the disease.” 

“We know we have the pathogenic bacteria in our environment, in our barns, and if we create the right conditions, there’s a subclinical necrotic enteritis and again, from a growth promoting antibiotic standpoint, it’s the subclinical disease that we’re really trying to control.” 

“We use that challenge model to assess different candidates for antibiotic replacement. There are lots of different candidates to test and at this point, that has been a big part of my research program.”

“On the layer side, most of our trials recently have gone to extended ages. Globally, that’s the trend, birds are being kept longer and longer. There’s some challenges that take place that you didn’t necessarily have when the birds were kept until 70 weeks of age. They are high producing birds, and they are relatively small, and it puts pressure on things like their skeletal system and shell quality. We’re particularly looking at calcium and phosphorus supply, enzymes to reduce the effect of phytate, enzymes for wheat-based diets, and the physiology and bone biology of those birds as they go through a long production cycle.” 

“Finally, my third project is a feed evaluation study. We’ve got a project right now, looking at locally grown faba beans as a potential partial replacement or full replacement for imported soy meal.” 

Doug is also an active member of the Poultry Innovation Partnership both as a board member and Chair of the PIP Education and Mentoring Committee. This committee develops educational outreach for poultry and agriculture students, creating networking and connection opportunities between students and the poultry industry.  

“I’ve enjoyed being a part of the Poultry Research Center and seeing it transition into PIP, and I think it has increased the engagement with the broader group of stakeholders,” said Korver. “When PIP succeeds, it’s going to be because it benefits everybody involved. Different groups contribute different things and benefit in different ways and bringing all those groups together is good for Alberta poultry and it’s good for Canadian poultry.”

Future Plans

Although Doug Korver is officially retiring, he will continue with a 1/3 teaching load for three more years. In addition, he is launching his own consulting company called Alpine Poultry Nutrition. 

“I’m working right now on a 12-hour virtual layer nutrition management course for use in Colombia,” said Korver. “It’s part of a bigger certification program that they are putting on for their layer industry.” 

“I didn’t see myself retiring at 55 but there was an opportunity, and I feel like I’ve got time to build something up in the years that I hope I have left.”

Final Thoughts 

I think that, for as long as I can project into the future, poultry products are going to be an important part of feeding the world. The world can’t sustain 9 billion vegetarians. Poultry also tends to have a pretty good carbon footprint relative to some of the other livestock.”

“I tell students that it’s a growth industry globally. Poultry consumption is increasing, it’s the number one animal protein in the world. There’s lots of opportunities, particularly if you want to travel.”

“I tell people that I contribute to feeding the world. I’m not growing chickens, but I’m helping the people that grow chickens, or that produce eggs do things a little bit better or a little bit more economically, or with a little bit less of an environmental impact.  It’s that little contribution that we can make to feeding people and it’s important.”

Selected Peer- Reviewed Articles and Popular Press Articles

The Poultry Podcast Show Episode 29

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  1. “Dr. Korver is a great teacher and great friend. He was one of my supervisors for my Masters study and taught me a great deal during my academic journey. As a student part of the poultry science group that was starting to gain some traction at the university. Doug and I had a lot of interactions and a lot of fun and to this day we still keep in touch. So much so, that I have been presenting along with Nancy Fischer for the last 7 years to his poultry nutrition class about the feed industry and nutrition, which I have enjoyed each year. Doug was very instrumental in helping me start my career by introducing me to feed industry companies during meet and greets and I can’t thank him enough. Well deserved upcoming retirement Doug! thanks for everything you have help me with and your dedication to poultry nutrition!” Jerry Emmanuel