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Outbreak Wisconsin: ‘It Does Feel A Little Bit Like Groundhog’s Day’

Dairy Farmer Bryan Voegeli Fears What An Outbreak Could Mean For His Farm

a man drives a tractor
Bryan Voegeli sprays insecticide and foliar feed on an alfalfa field at his family’s farm in Monticello, Wis., on July 9, 2020. Will Cioci/WisconsinWatch

Dairy farmer Bryan Voegeli feels lucky that none of his workers have tested positive for COVID-19. But as the pandemic stretches on, he thinks it may be inevitable.

“Just given time and opportunity … we’ll probably all face some chance of exposure,” he said.

Voegeli’s farm, located between Monticello and New Glarus, supplies milk to a cheese cooperative and a yogurt company. Every day, he worries about what will happen if the coronavirus puts his workers out of commission.

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“If we had an outbreak, we’re not exactly sure how we would handle all the chores and jobs necessary to maintain our dairy operation,” he said.

Voegeli is somewhat comforted by the fact that much summer farm work takes place outside, with plenty of space for people to spread out.

“We’re lucky enough that we’re able to harvest crops, plant crops, get along,” he said.

Day-to-day life hasn’t changed on the farm since mid-March, Voegeli said. Workers still wake up to take care of the cows every day at 4:30 a.m. But the days all feel similar.

“It does feel a little bit like Groundhog’s Day,” he said, referring to the Bill Murray film where the main character relives the same day over and over.

Summer is usually a busy time for Voegeli’s farm, with industry shows and conventions. The farm sells bovine genetic material alongside milk.

At this point in a normal summer, Voegeli said he would have attended five or six cattle shows, with several more on the docket. This year, he has gone to only two. Voegeli helps lead the massive World Dairy Expo, held annually in Madison. But in June, the virus triggered the first cancellation in the event’s 53-year history.

Alongside his business concerns, plans have changed for two family weddings originally planned for this summer. His girlfriend’s daughter’s wedding reception was postponed.

For Voegeli’s son’s wedding, the family was expecting many out-of-town guests, many of whom have canceled their trips, he said. That sent Voegeli into contingency-planning mode.

“We’ll make something happen and just have the party in our dairy barn,” Voegeli said. “But it has been challenging to say the least.”

Voegeli’s 166-year-old farm has been through plenty, and he wonders what will come next. “We’re always concerned about what the future brings,” he said. “When and if the pandemic hits here, how we’ll be able to handle it, if we are prepared enough for it.”

He added: “But in the meantime, we continue to do what we do every day.”

Editor’s note: This story is a part of Outbreak Wisconsin, a collaborative project by Wisconsin Watch and WPR, following Wisconsin residents as they navigate life during the coronavirus pandemic. The residents will contribute diary entries, in the form of audio, video, text, drawings and photos of themselves, their families and personal and professional lives. That content will be supplemented by interviews and digital content to provide a full picture of how the pandemic is affecting all aspects of life in Wisconsin