Client Highlight: Mike Baumann

Willingness to Change prompts Organic Dairy Farmer’s Post-Accident Success

November 2, 2009 seemed like an ordinary day on the farm for Mike Baumann. A successful dairy farmer, he had made the transition from conventional to organic farming a few years earlier, and was in the middle of harvesting corn for feed. “We were picking corn and the corn wasn’t dry…It plugged up [the picker] and I didn’t shut it off and tried to unplug it while it was running and I got my hand caught”

Baumann was hospitalized and underwent a series of surgeries to repair the damages to his arm. “I was in and out of the hospital and had four surgeries on my hand. I was out of the barn for two months,” Baumann said. Baumann lost four fingers in the accident and was left with limited fine motor skills and an inability to perform certain tasks that require two hands. “My agronomist and nutritionist gave me [AgrAbility’s] phone number and said ‘you call these guys, they’ll help you.’ He had seen other places where [AgrAbility] had been and had helped the fellows out a lot.”

Baumann did call AgrAbility and Jeff Kratochwill, one of AgrAbility’s Rural Rehabilitation Specialists, was assigned to the case. “He came and spent some time here. He looked at the equipment and the operation and made some suggestions, giving me ideas of what I could do on my own and what AgrAbility could do to help me. He really understood what was going on.”

With Kratochwill’s help, and with assistance from Wisconsin’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), Baumann was able to make some critical changes to keep his farm running. “We tossed around the idea of [my] doing something else, but when Jeff came out, it was at the time the job market didn’t look very good, and they figured it would be better to do things to keep me farming than to train me into another job.” DVR was able to help Baumann purchase a skid steer and TMR mixer, which would help Baumann accomplish the same chores in a different way. “Jeff suggested we use silo bags and use the skid steer to load out of the silo bags into the mixer and then we got some bunks that we drive by to fill for the cows.” These changes helped to limit the tasks that required repetitive motion and two hands, such as climbing silo towers, pushing feed carts, carrying mineral pails, and moving hay bales.

The changes worked; today, Baumann continues to farm with the help of his wife and two sons. Despite limited movement in his arm, and difficulty with fine motor skills, Baumann manages to take care of 57 cows on 210 acres. They have been certified organic since 2003 and sell their milk to the Organic Valley Dairy Cooperative.

When asked to give advice to a new client enrolling with AgrAbility, Baumann said, “You’ve got to be willing to change. Be open to the ideas of the help you’re being give. You do have to change your line of thinking and your way of doing things, but it’s usually for the best.” Baumann added; “I’m just glad for all of the help – very glad.”