A LIFESTYLE OF FAMILY FARMING
by Abigail Jensen, AgrAbility of Wisconsin Program Assistant
“An 18 hour workday is nothing when you are a farmer,” said Pat Ledden. Averaging 14 hour days Monday through Saturday and an eight hour day on Sunday hardly sounds like the ideal job. But on a dairy farm in the small town of Auburndale, Wisconsin, Pat and his family wouldn’t have it any other way.
Pat, along with his son Neil, run an 89 cow dairy farm, spending about 2.5 hours every morning and afternoon milking their herd. In between milkings, you can find Pat and Neil out in their fields tending to the crops, fixing up machinery in their shop, maintaining the barn, or checking on the cows. Their to-do lists may change, but there is always something to be done.
Pat, like many dairy farmers, has been working all his life on the farm. On a daily basis, he’s lifting heavy items, bending, twisting, and climbing to get into machinery and silos, tasks that many farmers can relate to. It’s easy to see how quickly this life can take a toll on the body. Jeff Kratochwill, Easter Seals Rural Rehabilitation Specialist, says, “A lot of limitations are orthopedic; wear and tear on the body from years of farming.”
As Pat got older, he noticed the pain in his back, something he has been dealing with since he was 18, was getting progressively worse, and radiating pain down his leg. His daily chores weren’t helping the issue.
Pat described his milking procedure, “First I bend over to clean her, then I bend over to put the milkers on, squat to check, and so on.” Doing this for about 80 cows two to three times a day is straining on many parts of the body, including the knees, back and shoulders, to name a few. When Pat built his new barn in 20104 he kept these things in mind. One thing he added was a cart that can transport the milkers around the barn, and an alley-way in which the cart can be easily moved. Putting less pressure on his body really makes a difference at the end of each day.
When Pat realized his farming life was starting to take a toll on his body, he also started looking into resources that might help him. AgrAbility of Wisconsin was one of the calls he made, and he is very thankful for the work that he can do without pain now.
Pat now stores his feed in ground level bags rather than silos. This ensures that he is not climbing tower silos, risking a fall due to the problems he is having with his back and joints. In addition to being safer with the cattle feed, he is also using a Ranger to help move cattle and travel around the farm, while carrying heavy feed or supplies, without risking a serious fall because of the uneven ground. Pat received assistance with the assistive technology and modifications from Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), a state program dedicated to helping people with disabilities and limitations find or maintain employment.
Now, Pat is more aware of how he is working on the farm and how it is impacting his body. “I look for the easiest way to get it done and still do it right,” Pat said. This includes asking his son for help when he is required to lift heavy items and knowing his limits when working with the animals and in machinery.
Pat and his family are extremely appreciative of the assistance and support they received. With the aid of AgrAbility, Easter Seals, and DVR Pat can continue to do what he loves without the added pain.
FALL NEIGHBOR TO NEIGHBOR MEETING
The fall Neighbor-to-Neighbor meeting was held at Kevin Buswell’s farm in Fountain City last September. Seven farmers from the area gathered to learn from each other and AgrAbility staff about assistive technology and AgrAbility services. Participants exchanged ideas on what had been done on their respective farms.
Neighbor-to-Neighbor meetings are held three to four times per year around the state in order to provide farmers with an opportunity to meet other farmers facing similar challenges. Individuals who are new to the program can meet with farmers who are nearing completion of the program to discuss the process and their successes. Watch for a Neighbor-to-Neighbor meeting near you, so that you can take advantage of this farmer to farmer networking opportunity!
CLIENT HIGHLIGHT: JIM ZELL
Jim Zell. It’s a name that many farmers across Wisconsin know well, especially near the Mosinee area. Jim is a farmer, a son, a brother, an agriculture advocate, and above all a true friend to any one he meets. When you meet Jim there is very little silence. He is full of interesting stories about life, farming, and the treasures and mishaps along the way. He can make five hours seem like five minutes, filled with laughter and wisdom.
Jim’s family has owned the farm for over a century and many of his family members are still in the area. With various transitions throughout his life, the farm is still in operation even though it may look a little different. Jim explained the fields are home to different crops and there are primarily pasture-raised cattle today, but over the years it has survived the ups and downs of the industry.
When we first met Jim in the late 1990’s he struggled with getting around, suffering with mobility issues like many farmers who have been on the farm since the day they were born. For Jim, it wasn’t just the normal wear and tear of the everyday active and repetitive lifestyle; Jim was also in a serious accident in 1988 that required him to have a fusion done at the L3 level of his back. This has left him with recurring pain, making any chore or daily activity that requires pulling, pushing, or even carrying that much more difficult. Living with this pain and his limitations for over a decade while continuing to farm has increased Jim’s wear and tear, such as on his knees and shoulders. So he started looking into other options to help.
With the aid of assistive technology, Jim’s tractors have additional steps to decrease the height he must lift his feet to step up. With arthritis in his joints, it’s easy to see how this task could be challenging, but the steps help to alleviate some of the difficulty. Jim also continues to use his John Deere Gator, which he received with the funding help of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). The Gator helps Jim travel throughout his farm to get to the cattle without added stress on his back, and has a utility cargo box to provide him with the space to take along any supplies he needs. When talking about his daily activities, Jim said, “I can’t imagine getting around without my Gator. It gives me more independence.” Jim has modified his farm to fit his needs as the times have changed with age, including adding a fence that automatically opens when he uses his Gator; this reduces the risk of him getting injured by manually opening these fences on hilly, uneven ground.
It’s clear when Jim talks to people that he has a deep passion for the work he is doing. Jim demonstrates this passion for agriculture by farming but also by encouraging young people to learn about agriculture. He has been an advocate for AgrAbility for many years—talking with farmers about the process, answering questions, attending summits and conventions. Jim is appreciative of the work he has been able to do with the help of AgrAbility, Easter Seals and DVR, and the program staff is grateful to have such a great “ag-vocate” in return.
ANNUAL AGRABILITY SUMMIT
The annual AgrAbility of Wisconsin summit is being held on March 23rd at Organic Valley new office in Cashton, WI. Topics to be covered include succession planning, information on the AgrAbility program, and an update on assistive technology. Check out the website for more information or to register by March 9th. You can also register by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 608-262-9336.
DANDELION DASH 5K
On May 1st Jelli’s Market and AgrAbility of Wisconsin will be hosting the 3rd annual Dandelion Dash 5K Run and Kids Dash. The money donated to AgrAbility will support the AgrAbility internship program, in which students of agriculture promote all AgrAbility efforts, furthering the reach and success of the program. It will also support our farmers who wish to continue improving their farms through attendance at national conferences.
For more information about the race and how you can participate- as a runner or donor- can be found on their website jellimarket.com or by calling 262-593-5133.
AGRABILITY, EASTER SEALS, AND EXTENSION CELEBRATE 25 YEARS OF SUCCESS IN WISCONSIN
The year 2016 marks 25 years of AgrAbility! As part of our celebration, we would like to thank our partner agencies and explain how AgrAbility, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension, and Easter Seals and their FARM team work together to keep our Wisconsin farmers on the farm even through disabilities, injuries, and accidents.
AgrAbility exists as a partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Easter Seals Wisconsin. The AgrAbility project was a grant, originally awarded to the University by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1991. The project has been renewed every year since, for a total of 25 years this year.
AgrAbility employees work out of an office located on campus at UW-Madison, are UW employees, and are considered part of UW-Extension. Being part of Extension allows special access to recent and relevant information and technology from agents and specialists in every agricultural discipline.
For more information about the partners and organizations assisting farmers, continue reading here.