At campus farms, chores go on despite pandemic

Posted April 30, 2020

Concerns about the coronavirus pandemic shut down most of the UW-River Falls campus, but the school’s two laboratory farms continue operation, although with some modifications.

The two farms are in separate locations and serve different purposes for students. The Campus Farm is across the Kinnickinnic River from the River Falls campus between Wasson Lane and Cemetery Road. Its 130 acres are home to rodeo arenas, breeding facilities, a colt barn, land for horticulture research and other facilities for livestock shows and sales.

The Mann Valley Farm is located nearly three miles northwest of River Falls on 475 acres between Radio Road and South Glover Road. The farm is home to beef, dairy, sheep and swine operations plus a dairy learning center, indoor classrooms, and composting research space.

In addition to hosting classes, the lab farms are open to the public. Typically, members of the public and the university who are not associated with the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) can to go to the farms and walk around to view the livestock and other facilities. Since the pandemic began, signs are posted around the farms asking those who come to stay in their vehicles if they are they are there to view the livestock or for other leisure purposes.

Laura Walsh, administrative program manager for CAFES, said most recently 16 students were employed at the Mann Valley Farm and eight at the Campus Farm.

“The farm is a lot like it is in the summer but with even a bit less activity,” Walsh said. “Like every farm, they are starting to get ready for planting.”

With many students deciding to move home when classes were shifted online, the number of student employees at the lab farm decreased, but day-to-day had to go on.

“We were fortunate in that we were able to deem them essential and retain a number of student employees,” Walsh said. “There was some reshuffling as some students wanted to or felt that they had to head home, so some others were added to the crew.”

Almost all of those who are employed care of the animals with some responsible for milking cows at the Mann Valley Farm, maintaining the equipment and assisting with other livestock, according to Walsh. At the Campus Farm students are responsible for caring for the horses, including foals born this spring.

Paige Isensee is a senior at UW-River Falls majoring in animal science and dairy science in addition to pre-veterinary medicine. Isensee has been employed at the Campus Farm for just over year and is a livestock worker at the Mann Valley Farm, where she is responsible for caring for the livestock.

While the pandemic has resulted in changes at the farm, Isensee’s daily tasks have remained the same.

“Our day-to-day tasks have not changed, but we do have a significantly smaller workforce around the farm,” Isensee said. “Student employees are learning how to handle the delicate balance of being a full-time student in addition to working the maximum number of hours allotted per week on the farm.”

Changes had to be made to ensure all the work was being completed each day.

“As a result of the pandemic we now have only four students working on the livestock side of the farm,” Isensee said. “There has been a significant decrease in the workforce around the farm, but we are finding ways to complete necessary tasks.”

Despite the pandemic that resulted in shifts to the farms’ staffing, it is still essential that the animals and facilities are maintained. No matter how the staffing on each of the UWRF farms may have changed, all the chores are being done and responsibilities handled as usual as farm life goes on.