“I got to put together everything I dreamed about”

Walt Shafer credits both Costco and Marel for the support in the LPP Fremont project

Costco Lpp Deboning Workers

When Walt Shafer, chief operations officer for Lincoln Premium Poultry in Fremont, Nebraska, started working on pullet crews and in hatcheries doing grunt work as a teenager in Harrisonburg, Virginia, he never fathomed he’d make a career working in the chicken business.

First, Walt Shafer attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, and received his degree in accounting. After that, he held many positions in the poultry industry. “I got to run my first plant when I was 26 years old for Rockingham Poultry.”


Walt Shafer’s career then took him north to Jack Frost Gold’n Plump Poultry in St. Cloud, Minnesota, as vice president of operations. Then back to Virginia and WLR Foods where he worked in many roles until 2001, when Pilgrim’s Pride acquired WLR Foods. “I held many positions with Pilgrim’s from senior vice president of the East Coast division to executive vice president of retail operations, and eventually executive vice president of all US operations. My last position with them prior to actually doing this project [Lincoln Premium Poultry] was executive vice president of all other technical services operations for Pilgrim’s.”


Walt Shafer And Line Worker840

Do the right thing

In 2015, Shafer was asked to join a project to put a poultry complex together for Costco. Costco’s willingness to give Shafer and a team he assembled carte blanche to create something from scratch with very few limitations tipped the scales in favor of making the move. The requirements Costco did put on the project were things Shafer had envisioned anyway. “We wanted to be great to the environment,” he says. “We wanted to have great animal welfare techniques. We wanted to have great employees and we wanted to use a saying Costco uses, ‘We want to do the right thing.’ I got to put together everything I dreamed about.”

Latest technology

Today the Lincoln Premium Poultry complex sits on more than 400 acres and includes a 400,000-square-foot processing plant, a feed mill, a hatchery and new lab services and production office. Shafer gives credit to both Costco and Marel for the support and partnership through the process.
Prior to breaking ground on the complex, Shafer traveled to Europe to look at Marel’s latest technology in poultry processing. At the time, much of the technology and equipment put into the Lincoln Premium facility wasn’t in the United States. Some of the equipment in the plant was the first of its kind to be in use.

Learning curve with Marel

Marel’s advanced automation brought with it a learning curve. Shafer says Marel worked hard to ensure the plant operated as intended. Marel personnel stayed at Lincoln Premium through training and troubleshooting every step of the way to ensure Lincoln’s staff had every technical skill necessary to operate, run and maintain the facility. The two entities even let others in the industry tour the plant to see the equipment in process. “Rather than take them to Europe, they’ve been able to bring them here and say, ‘This is what the plants over in Europe look like,’” Shafer says.

I want to make this thing a world-class poultry operation.

Walt Shafer
COO Lincoln Premium Poultry

Labor taken out

Shafer’s and Costco’s original vision and plan from six years ago has come to fruition with the help of Marel, the company which provided about 80% of all the equipment in the plant. They planned for labor shortages and emphasized animal welfare through automation. The plant does those things they wanted it to do all those years ago.
“It’s taken labor out and made the jobs easier, it protects our animals through the automatic catching that we’re doing. We’re using their modules in their lairage system with automatic conveyance. The gas stunning, the automated evisceration lines, the automated cut up, debone and all the way through, so I think it’s been a very good partnership for both teams.”

World-class poultry operation

Shafer’s years of experience in the poultry industry provided the vision and wherewithal to take on the Lincoln Premium Poultry project, partner with a state-of-the-art equipment supplier and manage through the worst part of a global pandemic that continues to linger. Shafer believes the culture that’s been created by his contributions, Costco’s contributions and those of Marel is the culmination of a long and fruitful career. “I want to make this thing a world-class poultry operation,” Shafer said. “Then, the future will take care of itself.”

Courtesy Meat+Poultry, by Bob Sims, pictures by Ryan Alcantara Photography

Walt Shafer Poultry Lines1000

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