UD professor competes in Can-Am Crown Sled Dog Race

March 31, 2014 under CANR News

Professor Eric Benson competes in the Can-Am Crown Sled Dog RaceWhen the University of Delaware’s Eric Benson entered the 22nd annual Can-Am Crown Sled Dog Race in Maine, the only thing that he did not want to see at the end of the run was the Red Lantern, which is given to the slowest team.

Luckily for Benson, he had put in enough training and his dogs ran fast enough to avoid receiving that “prize.”

Benson, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, and his six-dog team finished in 20th out of 26 teams, running the 30-mile race in 4 hours and 19 minutes.

Benson said that he was happy with the result, especially because he and his dogs do not race a lot.

Benson co-owns Maryland Sled Dog Adventures LLC with his wife, Catherine. Maryland Sled Dog Adventures focuses on teaching people about dog sledding and most of the events are on weekends, which also is when the races are usually held.

Maryland Sled Dog Adventures works many Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, teaching the children about dog sledding. While the opportunity provides the young people hands-on experiences and gives the dogs training, these runs are generally for short distances, not the long 30-mile slogs through the snow that CAN-AM race entailed.

“Our normal business has us doing a lot of short distance, stop, short distance, stop, which is kind of the exact opposite of what we want,” said Benson. “On a given day when we’re running things for Girl Scouts, we might total six or seven miles, when we needed to get up to 30 miles and have the dogs run continuously.”

To supplement the training, Benson said they “did a couple of trips this winter where we went up to Maine and we would run 18-20 mile stretches.”

The week before the race, the team trained in Edmonton, Canada, and did 16-30 mile runs every other day in order to train under similar geography and temperature conditions that they would encounter during the race.

All of the dogs on the team – made up of four dogs owned by Benson and his wife and two dogs owned by friends — are Siberian Huskies, while a lot of the other dogs in the race were Alaskan Huskies.

Benson said that this put his team at a disadvantage because while Siberian Huskies are a registered, pure breed, Alaskan Huskies can be bred with faster types of dogs. “What that lets people do is mix in German short haired pointer, German shepherd, whatever they want — even greyhound — to get the speed that they need. So in any race when they’re in the same field, they will be faster,” said Benson.

The dogs that raced in the Cam-Am were Benson’s dogs Acadia, Sammamish, Beaver and Vale, and his friends’ dogs, Lumos and Yoda.

The dogs trained with Benson throughout the winter, both locally and on trips to Maine. This winter was especially good for training locally because of the numerous storms.

“We did some training here with snow,” Benson said. “We normally assume that we will do all of our training in this area with the wheeled carts, but this year, I think we had seven or eight times we were able to get out and sled. Previous years, we’ve had zero.”

sleddogsbAs for his role on the team, Benson said that for this particular course, the first eight miles were on an old railroad track that was converted to a trail and so from the beginning he had to slow the team down by pumping the brakes in order to save their strength.

After the flat beginning, the team moved into hills and Benson said he started what is known as pedaling, pushing the sled with one foot while the other stays on the sled’s runner. “You give a stride to help the dogs along. The other thing you do is sometimes you carry a ski pole and as you’re running along, you’ll use the ski pole to help add a little bit of energy to the team,” said Benson.

Towards the end of the race, at about mile 22, the elevation started to rise. “From mile 22-28, it was a tough run. A lot of helping the team, a lot of running up the hills, a lot of pedaling, a lot of poling,” said Benson.

As for how he got involved in the sport, Benson said it started when his dog Zoe, who has long since retired, wouldn’t tire out on normal walks around the block. They got into it with a very simple cart and two dogs — the other was named T-Bone — and then started adding dogs and equipment to get to where they are today.

Benson said that it is a little tricky to balance such an intensive hobby with his job as a professor, but that sometimes the two worlds collide nicely. “I did bring some of the sled dogs in last fall for my emergency animal management class when we were talking about working dogs, and that was actually a neat tie-in,” said Benson.

“Working dogs, including sled dogs, are managed very differently from companion animal dogs and having had the sled dogs, I really understand a bit more about that,” he said. “We’re kind of in a transition zone because our dogs are still pets, which is not traditional working dog mentality, but we’ve transitioned more toward a traditional working dog structure and so that definitely fit well for discussions in the emergency animal management class.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Catherine and Eric Benson

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Share

UD grad student sets up collaborative research with Brazil’s UFLA

May 2, 2013 under CANR News

During spring break, University of Delaware graduate student Allison Rogers spent a week at Brazil’s University Federal de Lavras (UFLA) to secure future collaborations for research on broiler chickens and to assist Carl Schmidt, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, in his research on the global genomic diversity of chickens.

A self-professed “bird lady” who was named a Plastino Scholar in 2011 and traveled the country discussing the importation and smuggling of parrots into the United States, Rogers was able to set up a collaboration with researchers at UFLA that will see her return to the University in June. Her research deals with studying “the effect of alternative lighting technologies such as LED and cold cathode fluorescent (CCFL) light bulbs on the growth and performance of broiler chickens.”

Allison Rogers traveled to Brazil's UFLA campusRogers, a master’s degree student studying animal science in the laboratory group of Eric Benson, associate professor of animal and food sciences, and Robert Alphin, instructor in the department and manager of the Allen Laboratory, explained that incandescent light bulbs traditionally have been used in chicken houses but now growers are moving toward higher efficiency light bulbs and they want to be able to determine whether or not these new lighting technologies have any effect on the growth of their birds, which would impact them economically.

“Our interest in Brazil, particularly in the region that we’re visiting, is that they’re able to raise their birds in completely open houses,” said Rogers, explaining that the chickens are “enclosed within a house but they have enormous windows that are completely open — they have natural ventilation and natural lighting. That is so different from what we have, which is completely enclosed, artificial ventilation and artificial lighting. I’ll be collecting blood samples upon my return, to compare relative stress levels between birds raised under natural light versus birds raised under artificial light.”

Schmidt added that when Rogers goes back in June, her collaborators at UFLA will have “set up a flock for her. They will grow the chickens for five weeks and in June she will begin sampling the birds to evaluate in a fairly straightforward way their immune function and stress levels, and to be able to compare that with the data she’s collected on her own flocks here in Delaware.”

As for this most recent trip, Rogers was assisting Schmidt with his research, helping to collect genetic samples from backyard chickens that will help aid his studies on the genomics of the common chicken and how they respond to different environments — such as very hot and high altitude environments — with the hope that the genetic information will allow livestock breeders in the United States to improve their flocks.

“We took samples using a piece of paper that has been treated so that you can take one drop of blood from an animal and put it on this piece of paper and it will stabilize the sample and destroy any  viruses or bacteria. It allows you to keep that stabilized sample and then analyze it later on,” Rogers explained.

As one who is enthralled with exotic species of birds, Rogers said that just because she was studying chickens in Brazil didn’t mean that she was not able to see exotic species — sometimes getting to do so without even leaving the UFLA campus. “I got made fun of by Dr. Schmidt because at one point we were on the campus and a toucan flew over head and I was just like, ‘Toucan!’” said Rogers. “It was so exciting to see these species that you would never see in the United States and the people in Brazil are just as excited about them as we are, which is really wonderful. They say they’re really proud that the university has kept enough foliage and enough resources for these birds to still be able to live in this quasi-urban setting. That was really important to them.”

Rogers added that she saw similarities between UFLA and UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, making for a seamless collaborative environment. “UFLA is an agriculturally and historically based university and so we felt very at home when we arrived. There are very strong programs there for horses as well as cattle and so we really just kind of felt at home. Everyone was very welcoming. The students that helped us were just wonderful and so caring.”

About the partnership between UD and UFLA

In 2011, CANR and the College of Arts and Sciences received a $150,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and International Science and Education program (USDA-NIFA-ISE) to continue on a three-year partnership with UFLA.

The hope of this partnership is to establish both long-standing academic programs and research partnerships, with both institutions helping each other in those areas in which their research overlaps.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Share

Emergency Poultry Disease Response workshop considers biosecurity, rapid response

June 26, 2012 under CANR News

The University of Delaware hosted its fourth annual Emergency Poultry Disease Response (EPDR) certificate program June 18-21. The workshop, which was held on the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) campus, was aimed at teaching both local and international participants about preparedness planning, biosecurity and assessment, and rapid response techniques and technology with regard to avian disease outbreaks.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Avian Influenza Coordinated Agriculture Project 2, this year’s workshop included participants from all over the globe. Thirteen countries were represented, including Ghana, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Bolivia, Mexico and Japan.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons spoke at the opening of the event, talking about the importance of having strong measures in place to curb any avian disease outbreaks and praising UD for its role in helping educate local and international audiences on the topic.

“I am thrilled that the University of Delaware continues to sponsor and support this unique program,” Coons said. “As we’ve learned, avian influenza and other challenges to poultry health and poultry management are truly global. They spread quickly, they spread globally and they present a threat to all of us.”

Coons talked about the importance of collaboration, saying there are important technical aspects in the management of modern poultry flocks that can and should be shared. “My hope is that you will go home having had a great four-day experience and saying to folks, ‘You ought to sign up, because this was an amazing experience,’ and then sharing ideas about how we can continue to strengthen and broaden a global community that is committed to feeding the many, many people who need what poultry brings.

“I just want to thank the University of Delaware for hosting this and for having such a positive global orientation, and for [their] national leadership role in making sure that we’re all able to deliver a secure poultry future,” Coons said.

Eric Benson, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences (ANFS), explained that the course came about during international efforts in Romania and Bulgaria and that it is adjusted every year based on changes in avian disease understanding.

Benson said feedback from past participants in the course has been positive, with many saying it “really helped them to make changes” in their understanding of the subject.

George Irvine, of UD’s Division of Professional and Continuing Studies, explained to the participants that they will soon be joining a group of poultry and veterinary professionals from across the world who are alumni of the program, and that they will need to “engage now, but engage also with each other later, because we can only work together on these problems, which are global. Disease doesn’t define borders, it steps right across them.”

During the intensive four-day workshop, participants received instruction from UD faculty members on things such as influenza viruses and detection, hands on surveillance swabbing and learned about equipment disinfection.

The workshop wrapped up on Thursday, June 21, with Robin Morgan, dean of CANR, and Jack Gelb, chair of ANFS, handing out certificates to the participants, signifying that they had completed the course and that they are now official alumni of the EPDR program.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

 

Share