Perseverance and independence are two traits that many Wisconsin farmers possess. This is no different for Pepin County dairy farmer, Rick Linder who despite the loss of his sight nearly ten years ago continues to do his part on the Linder Farm.
Moving from the Twin Cities in 1976, ten-year-old, Linde and his family settled in among the rolling hills of Stockholm, Wisconsin. The Linder Family Farm, now supporting three families, runs 220 acres of corn and 400 acres of hay along with milking 225 cows in their new double-twelve parlor. The farm has endured a variety of building projects over the years, including two parlor expansions, new free stall barns, a shop, a house and currently construction on a calf barn with the family providing most of the planning and labor.
Adjusting to Change
Nearing completion of their first parlor expansion project in the early 90’s, Linder says his eyes began to “screw up” a bit. He went to the doctor hoping they could be fixed and learned that his diabetes, a disease he had lived with since age eight, was now affecting his sight. Surgery was scheduled and completed on both eyes at the same time in hopes of correcting the problem. Linder, however, left completely blind.
With his blindness came many challenges, but Linder considered himself lucky to have lived on the farm for so long allowing him to know the area well. With the help of his Pepin County Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) Counselor, Linder attended school in Wausau where he spent a couple weeks learning how to use a cane and read some Braille, as well as work with computers. Though he admits being stubborn and embarrassed about using his cane within those first few years, Linde won’t walk anywhere without it now. He basically gave up on Braille during his time at school and continues to be on and off with his use of computers.
Despite the loss of his sight, Linder’s passion to be a farmer never faltered. Several questions, however, were raised about how this might be achieved. Questions about how he could continue milking cows led his DVR counselor to seek assistance from AgrAbility of Wisconsin. Paul Leverenz, Resource Center for Farmers with Disabilities Director, visited the farm providing ideas on how Linder could identify the cows and continue his mechanic work.
Cow bells and leg bands were initial cues Linder has used to identify cows that were dry or treated, but these still allowed error. The installation of a Universal Quadtrac milking system within their first single fourteen parlor provided the Linder’s with a computerized version of milking. Each cow was assigned a number and wore a collar with a transponder that is read by an antenna identifying them as they walk into the parlor. This system keeps herd records in the computer and a “lock-out” feature safeguards Linder from putting “hot” milk into the tank. The computer recognized a “locked-out” cow and doesn’t allow the milker to be turned on.
Information gathered during the milking is sent to another computer that is located in the basement of the parlor. This computer was originally set-up to interface with the Universal system and was enhanced by a voice recognition system allowing Linder to stay involved with herd management. Their more recent parlor expansion requiring the purchase of ten new Universal Quadtrac milking units left the system not able to interface in the same way. Linder’s minimal interest in computer work has limited his input on herd management.
Working as a Team
Linder’s day starts with a trip to the parlor the the 6:00 a.m. milking while the rest of his day is spent with the calves or in the shop. Wind chimes located near the house and on the milk house provide him with cues to find his way around the farm though sounds like trees blowing, a fan in the barn, calves bellering, the windmill squeaking, and cows going in and out of the headlocks are his preferred cues. Knowing the area helps out a lot too, but Linder recognizes the invaluable role others play in his life. “I couldn’t do it all totally on my own,” he admits. “I always need somebody with an eyeball for something.” He also holds everyone accountable noting that if you work on the farm and you are one of the main people, you are supposed to know–know when a cow is bred, know when she will have her calf, know when she needs to be dried off or know to ask questions.
He maintains his independence in the ship relying on others solely for reading gauges from time to time and especially returning tools to their special spot, an important aid that allows him to locate tools efficiently. Linder has felt at times that he is not as good as a person that can see, but his wife, Tess, is quick to share that a lot of the things people do on the farm wouldn’t happen unless Rick was right there giving them pointers on anything from heat detection to working on machinery. “He taught me everything I know,” she explained. He taught me to drive bobcat and tractor just by talking to me and by me asking him questions.”
Though his role on the farm has changed, Linder doesn’t have a problem keeping busy. He takes care of most maintenance for the milking equipment and farm machinery, as well completing a majority of the phone work and research for things like the farm’s building projects. Through these experiences, he has found that people have a real difficulty wanting to deal with him. He and his wife feel that people don’t take him seriously, often stereotyping him as the “blind guy” who doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about. Granting that he was probably a little freaked out by somebody with a disability before he became blind, Liner still considers dealing with peoples’ ignorance a pain. He also struggles with the fact that due to a limited number of salespeople for specific types of equipment he can’t simply take his business elsewhere.
Taking Time for Recreation
Like many farmers, Linder finds himself caught in a vicious cycle of working seven days a week knowing there is always something to get done. He admits trying to live “normal” just like anyone, but feels that he can’t do any of the things he once thought were fun. He and his family continue to cam, snowmobile, tube, four-wheel and other fun stuff, but Linder finds himself always on the back. “I’m the mechanic though,” he proclaimed with pride. “That’s the fun part for me now…I get to keep all of this stuff going for all of these people.”