Greetings from the UK Department of Animal and Food Sciences. After not being able to host our Animal and Food Sciences Reunion last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are excited to be making plans for this year’s Reunion, keeping our fingers crossed that COVID will not necessitate postponing again. We hope you will make plans to join us so we will have the opportunity to share with you many of the past two years’ department happenings and we can learn about how the past two years have been for you. The Reunion provides a great venue for you to renew old friendships and start new ones, not to mention that you will get to enjoy a sampling of scrumptious meat products and crepes prepared and served by AFS faculty and staff. You will want to save a bit of room for some cobbler and ice cream.

As I’m sure you can imagine, navigating through the pandemic has been a challenge for the department in several areas. Some issues we were forced to address include:

  • In March of 2020 all students were sent home and our faculty and staff instructors had to immediately convert all our courses to online instruction. This required tremendous effort and ingenuity to continue providing a quality educational experience for our students. But true to form, our faculty and staff performed admirably and made the best of a difficult situation.
  • Also in March 2020, almost all UK employees (all except those required for essential services such as hospital workers, facility workers, those caring for animals, etc.) were sent home to work remotely. This required everyone getting the IT equipment set up at home to enable remote work and becoming proficient at using Zoom and other remote work technologies. One positive to most everyone at UK working remotely was that parking and traffic issues around campus were nonexistence! All our Animal Unit employees perform essential services because, as you know, animals must be fed and cared for daily, so they continued working on-site throughout the pandemic. Additionally, research trials were in place that had to continue. We are extremely fortunate to have dedicated folks working at our Animal Units and they kept things going at the farms throughout the pandemic.
  • The pandemic created a huge financial issue for the entire university. Significant revenue has been lost and significant additional expenses have been incurred, ultimately resulting in the college and department taking an almost 10% cut to our budget.

Despite these challenges, we were able to continue our important missions of teaching, research, and outreach. Our instructors continued to teach our students, but in new and innovative ways. Our Extension personnel figured out ways to use remote technology and continue serving our clientele and meeting their diverse needs. And our research faculty and staff found ways to safely continue our important research efforts and pursuit of new discoveries to improve animal and food production. It was truly amazing to have a ringside seat and be able to watch the department’s faculty and staff find ways to continue serving all our diverse constituency groups. The excellence of this wonderful group of people led to several receiving university, state, regional, and national awards and recognitions over the past two years. A listing of these can be viewed in this newsletter.

We have had a few personnel changes in the department over the past couple of years. A few of these position changes that might be of interest to you include:

  • Sheila Hollin, Business Officer for the department, retired in March 2019, after spending almost 41 years in service to the department.
  • Christine Tarne joined the department in March 2019 as the department’s Business Officer.
  • Dr. George Heersche, Jr. retired June 30, 2020 after serving 45 years as an Extension Dairy Specialist.
  • Steve Austin, Extension Associate for Youth Livestock Programs, left the department in January 2020 to return home to Illinois. He is presently teaching Vo-Ag there.
  • Zach Bartenslager was hired in January 2020 as Extension Associate for Youth Livestock Programs. Zach was previously the Collegiate Livestock Judging Team Coach at the University of Tennessee.
  • Amy Lawyer, Extension Associate for Youth Equine Programs, resigned her position in January 2021. Amy had recently completed a Ph.D. degree, enabling her to take a faculty position at the University of Louisville College of Business.
  • Mary Jane Little was hired in April 2021 as Extension Associate for Youth Equine Programs. Mary Jane was previously the 4-H Youth Development Extension Agent in Mason County.
  • Endre Fink, Sheep Unit Manager, retired June 2021, after working at the Sheep Unit for 31 years.
  • Matthew Hamilton was hired June 2021 as the Sheep Unit Manager. Matthew had been working as the Assistant Manager of the Sheep Unit.

We have broken ground for the new Poultry Unit that is being relocated to the C. Oran Little Research Center in Versailles. This new facility will expand our ability to conduct cutting-edge research that benefits Kentucky’s poultry industry. Plans are currently underway to relocate some of our dairy research capabilities (dairy calf nutrition and heifer development) to the C. Oran Little Research Center. We are also continuing in negotiations with Eastern Kentucky University to potentially partner with them on a milking dairy herd at their Meadowbrook Farm in Richmond and exploring to utilize their herd as a teaching tool for our undergraduate dairy students. Many of you will also know that our college currently houses the USDA ARS Forage Animal Production Unit in Ag North, and that several of our faculty are involved in research collaborations with this unit. Funds have been secured and plans are being developed for a new $66 million facility that will house current USDA ARS personnel, as well as some faculty and staff from other departments (including ours) that collaborate with them. The new facility will also contain new, modern laboratories for use by scientists.

Let me close by stating that the department truly values the relationships we have with each of you, our alumni. Your support and thoughtful insights are essential as we strive to remain the place where your young people want to come for their educational pursuits and the place that you look to for technologies and practices that keep you profitable and sustainable. I hope to see you at the Animal and Food Sciences Reunion on October 1st “under the tent”, and at other events across the state throughout the remainder of the year. Please reach out to me if I can ever be of service to you, and anytime you are in Lexington, please stop by and say “Hi”.

Richard Coffey

Department Chair