Students make a home on the range

Dr. Kasey De Atly, University Farm supervisor and Garrett Wallis, senior agricultural major who lives at the farm, stand outside the Beef Unit, Nov. 17, 2014. Photo credit: John Domogma

Chico State students who live at the University Farm wake up at 6 a.m. every day to take care of the animals and crops throughout the property.

There are 10 students who live on the school’s farm. The students who live there are being paid by the university to work full time, while some are receiving units for working on the farm as a class.

“It’s a great opportunity to work out here,” said Garrett Wallis, senior agriculture major. “Living here is just an added bonus.”

Students on the farm live in apartments owned by Chico State or trailers, which are owned by the students who live in them.

With only 15 full-time staff members, the farm relies on nearly 50 student employees and volunteers to keep afloat. Students are scattered amongst the 16 different agricultural units.

The dairy unit is comprised of about 10 students, while enterprises like swine, various crops and orchards have four or five students.

“It depends on the operation they are assigned to, but they do things like feeding, checking animal health and other standard operating procedures,” said David Daley, interim dean at the College of Agriculture and University Farm.

The more experienced farm students take on greater responsibilities within their unit. Wallis works in the Beef Unit where he researched the digestive effects of different foods fed to the cattle by looking directly into the animal’s stomach.

The Beef Unit drills a hole in the side heifers, young female cows who have not borne a calf, and inserts a common hospital tube called cannulas. Then the unit checks how the cow’s digestive process reacts to the different types of feed.

In the U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified meat lab, students prep animals from the farm and bring in other animals from around Northern California. The meat is eventually sold right out of the meat lab.

“Students really get a feel for what it’s like to work in a certain unit,” said James Richards, meat lab supervisor. “The students run it for the most part.”

Once livestock is sent to the farm, they’re fed until they’re ready to be slaughtered for the meat lab. The meat lab is also responsible for a lot of the beef and sausage that is served at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Daley said the jobs the students do at the farm are critical to the farm’s success. There is a lot of training done before the students are fully responsible.

“It’s great hands-on experience, and it’s beneficial because they are working in the field they plan on pursuing in the future,” he said.

The university has allowed students to live at the farm for almost 20 years, and they are still held to the same rules as students living on Chico State’s campus.

“Living at the farm is awesome,” Wallis said. “We don’t miss out on anything normal college students do. If anything, we have more opportunities.”

Robert Engels can be reached at [email protected] or @sullayyy on Twitter.