The Department of Animal Sciences Welcomes New Faculty Members Wenner and Enger

Aug. 21, 2018
(L. to R.) Dr. Benjamin Wenner and Dr. Benjamin Enger

The Department of Animal Sciences welcomes two new assistant professors to the department for autumn 2018, Dr. Benjamin Wenner and Dr. Benjamin Enger.

Dr. Benjamin Wenner

Dr. Benjamin Wenner returns to the Department of Animal Sciences as an assistant professor. His early involvement in 4-H has led to a career in animal nutrition research and education.

Dr. Benjamin Wenner as a 4-H competitorWenner originally lived in Powell, OH before moving to Michigan. After a few years in Michigan, his family returned to the family farm when he was in third grade. The return to Delaware County would serve as the foundation for his interest in animal sciences.

“We loved nature, but us kids had never owned a pet, never farmed an acre, and were generally ignorant about agriculture. My grandpa took my older brother out for the day and came home with a steer in a trailer. Now what were we going to do?” said Wenner. “We enrolled in 4-H so that my brother could learn to show this steer at the county fair and I tagged along with a couple of rabbits. The rest is really history, as they say.”

Wenner would remain active in 4-H throughout his childhood, showing cattle, sheep, and rabbits. “I’m thankful every day that Grandpa forced our hand on this when they bought that steer and I ended up working in this field,” said Wenner.

Wenner pursued his interest in animals and agriculture at Michigan State University (as an Alumni Distinguished Scholar) and earned his Bachelor of Science in Animal Science with a specialization in agribusiness management. He returned home to central Ohio to pursue both his M.S. and Ph.D. at The Ohio State University. He earned his Master of Science in Animal Sciences under the direction of Dr. Steven Moeller, studying swine management. He completed his Ph.D. in the Ohio State Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Nutrition (OSUN) under the direction of Dr. Jeffrey Firkins.

“My Ph.D. research utilized dual-flow continuous culture fermenters to simulate the rumen of a dairy cow in a lab setting,” said Wenner. “We redesigned the units and over the past few years I’ve Dr. Benjamin Wennerbecome a bit of a go-to expert on these updated units.”

After completing his Ph.D., he worked in technical service support for Perdue AgriBusiness in the dairy industry, building a private R&D laboratory and training the staff to operate it autonomously. “I’ve been privileged to speak at 3 regional conferences in the past couple years on dairy nutrition topics and this summer was a guest nutrition instructor at the Southwest Dairy Consortium.”

Wenner’s return to the Department of Animal Sciences is in a teaching appointment. However, he hopes to continue his research in the improvement of the accuracy and ease of feed analytics through the summer months.

“Within animal nutrition, we rely heavily on the information we get back from laboratories or academic institutions; but the processes that we use to determine this information can sometimes be complicated and susceptible to unknown errors,” said Wenner. “We need to better describe this variation to the people making decisions with the data or designing the next generation of research projects. Improving the accuracy of feed assays will help livestock producers make more educated decisions and improve the quality of research data.”

Wenner also completed research on estimating the microbial biomass of protozoa from the rumen and intends to continue work in this area. “Protozoa can contribute a substantial proportion of the microbial biomass in the rumen under certain feeding conditions; but they are difficult to culture independently from their bacterial counterparts so we have limited knowledge of how conditions around them affect their growth, activity, and influence on the health and productivity of the ruminant mammal,” said Wenner. “New methods for analyzing protozoal volume based on live video capture has opened up a new avenue to study how treatments affect protozoa and we are unique in our ability to perform this research with the availability of single species protozoal cultures.”

When not busy with research or teaching, Wenner spends time with his wife, Amanda, and their two daughters, Hannah and Emme. The Wenners continue to be active 4-H volunteers at the club, county and state levels.

“We have a small flock of sheep, host summer long sheep 4-H projects at our house, have a dog, Betsy, and I serve on the board of directors for the Delaware County Fair,” said Wenner. “Beyond 4-H, the other organization we are very actively involved in is Pelotonia. I started riding as a graduate student in 2010 and we’ve both been riding and raising money for cancer research ever since. Both organizations are close to our hearts as we seek opportunities to give back to our community.”

Dr. Benjamin Enger

Dr. Benjamin Enger joins the Department of Animal Sciences as an assistant professor. His research focuses on the less explored areas of mastitis and mammary physiology.

Dr. Benjamin Enger showing a cowEnger grew up in the Northwest, spending most of his youth in Montana and Idaho . The son of teachers, he was involved in 4-H and FFA during middle and high school where he raised swine and participated in career development events at the state and national level. It was while pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Animal and Veterinary Science at the University of Idaho that he began to shape his future.

“I enjoyed biology/physiology, especially from a medical standpoint. When that came together with working with animals, it made sense,” said Enger. “Throughout my time as undergraduate I did a lot of work in meat science, but when I was introduced to dairy science I never looked back. I just really enjoy the intricacies of the dairy system.”

Enger would begin to hone his interest in mastitis and mammary physiology while pursuing his graduate studies. He earned his Master of Science in Animal Science at Washington State University and his Ph.D. in Dairy Science at Virginia Tech.

While at The Ohio State University, Enger will continue research in mastitis with a focus on its consequences and effects on the mammary gland.

“The dairy industry has improved its control in lactating dairy cows but mastitis also affects non-lactating dairy animals. Non-lactating glands, although not producing milk, are not quiescent and are growing to prepare for the onset of lactation,” said Enger.  “One of my research areas focuses on how mastitis affects mammary gland growth and development. This is especially important because heifers, which have never lactated, may already have an infection in their gland and have diminished mammary growth.”

Mastitis is the most common and costly disease in the dairy industry. Financial losses are incurred from the discarding of milk and losses in milk yield. Enger hopes to lessen this impact on the dairy industry.

“I am always interested in mastitis in the lactating dairy cow and continue to research ways to reduce its impacts and occurrence in lactating dairy cows as this is when the milk crop is being directly Lab technician Cathy Parsons, Dr. Benjamin Enger, and Dr. Mike Akers (Dr. Enger's PhD advisor) at Virginia Techimpacted,” said Enger.

Enger also conducts research on mammary vasculature, which has not had a lot of exploration in dairy cattle.

“Another area of my research focuses on how blood vessels in the bovine mammary gland develop. This is important because blood delivers all the nutrients needed to produce milk in the mammary gland,” said Enger. “Consequently, improved blood supply is suspected to improve milk production.” 

Enger’s research has already resulted in career success. He was a USDA predoctoral fellowship recipient, which awarded $95,000 of funding for a stipend and research; this award just concluded. He currently has two grants in review by the USDA for funding. Enger also has two papers in review with the Journal of Dairy Science and one that he is preparing for submission. He will likely attend two discipline specific conferences in the next five months. 

Ben and his wife of nine years, Kellie, now reside in the Wooster area. Enger will work on the Ohio State OARDC campus. The Wooster facilities were part of his attraction to Ohio State.

“I decided to peruse this position given the department’s outstanding history of mastitis and mammary physiology research.  The location of the dairy farm also was appealing to me since my previous institutions had dairies located off campus.  The space of the laboratory and the enthusiasm of the faculty that I would work with was also attractive,” said Enger.