After 30 Years In Heavy Construction, Allegheny County Animal Keeper Tries Farming

Jun 19, 2017

Allegheny County has thousands of employees, but one of them has a rather unusual title. 

George Ursta is an animal keeper at Round Hill Park in Elizabeth Township. The park features a working farm complete with livestock. Ursta is one of two employees charged with their care.  

90.5 WESA’s Mark Nootbaar spoke with him not long after several of the animals had given birth.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

MARK NOOTBAAR: Give me a thumbnail sketch of Round Hill Park.

A sign near the barn at Round Hill Park lets visitors know what's new at the park.
Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

GEORGE URSTA: We have nine pavilions up in the park area and lots of trails. We have a splash park.  We have a playground. And then in the farm part, we plant our own corn, bail our own hay, we do our alfalfa. And obviously we have the farm animals. It’s a working farm and a recreational facility.

NOOTBAAR: What does a typical Monday look like?

URSTA: I arrive here around 4:30 in the morning. I ring the chain on the gate, and the cows come down.  They’re usually pretty obedient, and they’ll be down in about 10 minutes. I milk them and put them back in the pasture. Then I let King out. He’s one of the four retired police horses we have here. And then I make my rounds. I feed the chickens, turkeys, goats, pigs, donkeys -- your basic farm chores.

NOOTBAAR: Right now you are bottle feeding a few cows and lambs. What happens to all these animals?

Round Hill Park Animal Keeper George Ursta moves dairy cows from the milking barn back to the pasture.
Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

URSTA: They all stay on the farm unless we make a trade with another farmer.

NOOTBAAR: Do all of the crops stay on the farm?

URSTA: We send the corn to a feed mill to be processed and then use it to feed the dairy cows. All the hay and alfalfa we use around here we use the milk to feed the animals.

The sheep in the upper pasture at Round Hill Park come running when they hear Animal Keep George Ursta's voice.
Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

NOOTBAAR: How did you get into this line of work?

URSTA: I was hired almost six years ago. I worked heavy construction for 30 years before that and didn’t know anything about farming. When I interviewed, I told them I really wanted to work for Allegheny County, and I would be willing to shovel... I can’t say it. And when they hired me, they said I was going to get my wish. 'We’re sending you to Round Hill Park, and you’re going to be a farmer.' I was born and raised in McKeesport, but I learned how to be a farmer. It was pretty cool.

NOOTBAAR:  You’ve already had one career. How much longer do you think you can do this?

URSTA: I’m 58 now, and I love this job. And if my health and the Lord above are going to let me, I think I can go another 10 or 11 years. A lot of people say that they hate going to work; I’m one of the few who says I can’t wait to get to work.