Wilkes Community College is welcoming hundreds of baby chicks to campus as part of a new learning lab that will give students hands-on experience for jobs in the poultry business.

The college's Tyson Foods Sustainable Animal Science Lab is now officially open. The company gave the school a little over $100,000 to help build the site, which houses around 500 chickens and state-of-the-art equipment to train students in several jobs.

There are drinkers and feeders that can be adjusted as the birds grow. There's even a chicken cam to monitor what's going on inside the house 24/7.

Chicken Cam Kiosk - KERI BROWN/WFDD

“It's a small scale house, but the advanced equipment is what you would find in a large poultry house,” says Ronald Dollyhite, Dean of Applied Career Technologies at Wilkes Community College. “The students who come out of this program will know what to do when they enter the industry.”

Matthew Greene, an instructor in the school's agriculture program, says the facility is important to the local community.

“By and large, a lot of the employees in the industry right now will be leaving due to retirement in the next 10 to 15 years,” he says. “We have to find students that are willing to major in this and get to work in the field to replace these managers and supervisors as they begin to retire out.”

The lab has advanced equipment and climate control technology. KERI BROWN/WFDD

Greene says Wilkes County has more than 900 farms and the average age of a farmer there is 59 years old. It's also one of the top counties for broiler chicken production in North Carolina.

He says graduates of the two-year program could expect to make a starting salary of $40,000 to $45,000 a year.

The school's partnership with Tyson means that the birds will end up at the company's local processing plant after the growing season, which is expected to happen in November.

As for the dry litter poultry waste, the college says it will not be stored on campus. Instead, it is partnering with local farmers who will remove the waste and spread it on fields for fertilizer.

*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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