AgrAbility helps Sharon farmer stay in business

DAN LASSITER David Travis milks cows at his Sharon dairy despite his severe arthritis, back and foot problems. A state program called AgrAbility has helped the local farmer.

SHARON—Sometimes dairy farming is just in a person’s blood.

So no matter how

bad things get, or how wildly the milk prices swing, or how hard it is to get away for a vacation, the dedicated dairy farmer just keeps going.

David Travis, 67, is an example of the hardened dairy farmer.

His fingers are bent from arthritis. He’s had back surgery. Cold weather means another bout with Raynaud’s disease that causes his fingers and toes to turn white and become painful.

It’s a quiet perseverance that keeps Travis going, but AgrAbility of Wisconsin has helped, too.

A few years ago, Travis was thinking about expanding the operation he runs with his wife, Sharon, and son Daniel.

At one point, UW-Madison agriculture engineering professor David W. Kammel visited the farm to advise the family.

He connected Travis to AgrAbility of Wisconsin, an organization devoted to providing ideas and adaptive equipment to farmers with farm injuries or other disabilities.

AgrAbility works with Easter Seals and the state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to figure out what accommodations would help a farmer and where they can find the funding for the equipment they need.

As a result, the parlor and milk house floor on the Travis farm are heated. Rubber floor tiles reduce strain on feet and back. Automatic releases on milking equipment reduce the number of repetitive tasks Travis has to do with his gnarled hands.

His tractor has an extra handhold to make it easier to get into, and a utility vehicle helps him get around.

Not that this makes Travis’ job a cakewalk.

His hands still hurt, and sometimes his back does, too.

“I think it’s just something I’ve learned to tolerate,” Travis said. “My doctor said, ‘You’ve got two options: You can stop doing what you do and you’ll just stiffen up, or you can keep moving.’”

The farm has about 140 cows, and they milk three times a day. They have a hired hand to help with the work.

On a recent afternoon, Morgan Travis, 5, was helping out with the milking. Standing on her tiptoes, she applied predip to the cows’ teats.

Another grandchild, Axel Travis, 3, ran around the milk house. When asked if he, too, was going to be a farmer, Axel looked as if he would nod, “Yes,” but then he changed his mind and said, “No. A fireman.”

As Travis showed a visitor the free-stall barn, the future firefighter demanded that his grandfather push him on the swing.

His grandfather, the farmer, put him off for another few minutes.

“They’re happy cows,” Travis said, gesturing towards the animals thoughtfully chewing their feed.

Resting on a bed of clean sand, looking out over a rural landscape that included red barns, tidy homes and the grass turning green under the spring sunlight, it was difficult to imagine any creature not being happy.

With one of his arthritic hands tucked into his pockets, Travis shrugged and said, “I guess once this is in your blood, it’s in your blood.”

CATHERINE W. IDZERDA

March 21, 2015

Originally published: http://www.gazettextra.com/20150321/agriability_helps_sharon_farmer_stay_in_business