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Paul Hocking (1948-2018)

Paul Hocking was born in 1948 and grew up on a mixed farm near Exeter in Devon. He read agriculture at Reading University and obtained a postgraduate Diploma in Genetics at Edinburgh University in 1970. From 1970 to 1977 he worked for a secretariat providing services to cattle breeding societies. His work on a selection programme for dairy shorthorn cattle formed the basis for his PhD awarded in 1978 by Reading University. After 3 years lecturing at Reading he spent the next 2 years as a research fellow at the Animal Research Centre in Ottawa. It was there that he started to transfer his genetic interests from cattle to poultry. In 1983 he joined the Nutrition Department at the Poultry Research Centre in Edinburgh with the remit to study the topic of feed restriction in breeding birds. He remained there for the rest of his career seeing many changes, with the centre by the time of his retirement having been absorbed into the Roslin Institute and subsequently the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Science in the University of Edinburgh.

Paul quickly made a name in what became known as the broiler breeder paradox. The large body of work that defined the reproductive biology of broiler breeders and its control by feed restriction made him the go-to person for broiler and turkey breeder reproductive and welfare research. All Paul’s work was characterised by well-designed experiments and careful conclusions that led to sound understanding. This standing was recognised by the European Food Standard agency, with him serving on their Panels on Animal Health and Welfare of broilers and broiler breeders and in judicial reviews in the UK on breeder welfare. Paul embraced the genomic revolution and was in the forefront of setting up the populations needed to identify genes for Mendelian and quantitative traits in poultry. He also found new applications for his talents in understanding eye defects and disease susceptibility. Paul was diligent in carrying a piece of work through to its completion and was author or co-author of over 200 papers. He was a sought-after speaker and had travelled around the world on his reputation - travelling was something he much enjoyed. His work was recognised by the award of the Gordon Memorial Medal in 2013 giving his widely acclaimed lecture on the subject of ‘The unexpected consequences of genetic selection in broilers and turkeys: problems and solutions’.

Paul made a huge contribution to the committees and societies in our science community. He was a prominent figure in the UK branch of the World Poultry Science Association (WPSA). He served as its President and played an important role in several of the Poultry Science Symposia organised by the Branch. Paul also made a major contribution to the European Federation of WPSA. He was Vice President from 2006 to 2010 and the UK representative on Working Group 3 (Genetics). He organised the 7th Symposium of the Group in Scotland. He was a Council Member of British Poultry Science and in 2010 became its Joint Editor.

Paul was popular with his colleagues and with his thoughtful, friendly demeanour was a welcome collaborator on many projects. His unique style of after dinner jokes has been imitated but not matched. His service to the science and community that underpins such a major industry has left a lasting legacy. All these things, except the jokes, were recognised when Paul was elected to the International Poultry Hall of Fame at the World Poultry Congress in Beijing in 2016.

Paul had latterly decreased his work load to part time, preparatory to moving back to his roots in Devon. He had started his new life there, much preferring the milder climate to that of Edinburgh. It is a great pity that the rapid onset of a cancer deprived him of more years of retirement. He leaves a wife, Denise, son Chris and daughters Michelle and Jenny. He will be much missed by them and also his many friends and colleagues around the world.

Dr Ian Dunn and Professor Colin Whitehead
July 2018