Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dr. Godfrey: Working to Feed the World through Scientific Research

Dr. Robert Godfrey, director of the University of the Virgin Island’s Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) and professor of animal science on UVI’s Albert A. Sheen Campus
Self-proclaimed Caribbean cowboy Dr. Robert Godfrey loves going riding. Equally, he can’t wait to don his scuba gear and dive in the vibrant waters of St. Croix on the weekends. But what really excites him is scientific animal research.

Dr. Godfrey, director of the University of the Virgin Island’s Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) and professor of animal science on UVI’s Albert A. Sheen Campus, is conducting research on how Caribbean hair sheep and Senepol cattle have been able to adapt to the warm humid climate in the Caribbean, while their mixed breed counterparts don’t fare as well.

In March, he was a guest lecturer at Kansas State University in the Department of Animal Science and Industry. His presentation was a part of the Advance Distinguish Lecture Series sponsored by the Kansas State Office for the Advancement of Women in Science and Engineering. Dr. Godfrey, who received a Bachelor of Science in animal science and industry from Kansas State in 1980, was nominated by Dr. Lindsey Hulbert, associate professor of physiology and behavior at Kansas State. Drs. Godfrey and Hulbert are collaborators on a USDA-NIFA W-2173 multistate research project titled “Impacts of Stress Factors on Performance, Health, and Well-Being of Farm Animals.” Dr. Godfrey was able to discuss his research with undergraduate and graduates students and faculty.
Senepol cattle

In an attempt to find out why Senepol cattle fare better than cross-bred cattle, Dr. Godfrey began measuring their body temperature by using thermal imaging, rectal thermometers, or indwelling temperature probes. He has also done some research with colleagues from Cornell University, the University of Arizona and the University of Hawaii on monitoring the sweating rate of cattle. Senepol cattle sweat and increase their respiration more than cross-bred cattle that are not as adjusted to the environment.

The St. Croix White Hair Sheep’s body temperatures are cooler than the cross bred hair sheep in the flock. The cross-bred members of the flock are from the Dorper breed found in South Africa – where it is hot and dry. They are not as adapted to the territory’s warm and humid climate. “Our sheep and our cattle are well adapted here,” he says. “We are getting a hand on what traits make them adapted and if there is a way we can select those traits and conduct cross breeding programs to pass on those traits to subsequent generations.”

St. Croix White Hair Sheep
Dr. Godfrey and a University of the Virgin Islands Research Specialist Whitney George presented their research at the Southern Section American Society of Animal Science meetings this year in February and presented poster presentations on UVI’s Research Day on April 10.

“We hope that we can look at and develop ways to help the farmers come up with more economic ways of producing their livestock,” he says, adding that based on his findings farmers may change the way they breed, feed, or select traits for their animals. Dr. Godfrey focuses his research on heat stress as well as the limitation of water. These areas are of much interest to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provide most of the funding for his research.

He says that the heat stress research he is conducting is closely related to the climate change issue. “We are kind of like the canary in coal mine almost,” Dr. Godfrey says. “It’s already warm here.” He is looking at which farming practices can be developed and utilized that will increase high levels of production, whether it is livestock or crops, under these conditions. Animals and certain crops in the territory have adapted to our warm humid environment, he says. In fact, hair sheep in the territory have developed some resistance to parasites that devastate sheep on the mainland. Finding out how or why they are resistant will allow farmers to use less medicine to treat their sheep, thus providing a more wholesome food source.

Through consistent thorough research, Dr. Godfrey hopes to continue to find answers to agricultural mysteries. “I just get excited about the science,” he says. “I like asking questions and trying to find the answers.”

While on Facebook, one day, he found a quote that he feels best describes his role in the world. It said, “I didn’t need a plumber today, I didn’t need an architect, I didn’t need a cab driver, but I needed a farmer because I have to eat every day.”

“We feed people,” Dr. Godfrey says. “Our research helps produce food eventually. Everybody eats.” He continues, “We help produce what people eat. That’s always a nice feeling to know you’re helping in that respect. I’m not out there farming, producing stuff and selling it to the market directly, but hopefully people will use the tools and the things we develop to help enhance their productivity and feed the world. That’s one of our big goals.”