Sometimes I think a sign that says, “Warning: Farming May Be Hazardous to Your Health” should be posted at the entrance to every farmstead.
After all, most of us realize that if one mixes farm equipment, animals, distractions and speed together, one will get a recipe for disaster.
Each year the National Farm Health and Safety Week is held in September, and for me and my family it serves as a reminder of the dangers that can occur while working and living in a rural area.
While growing up on a dairy farm in the 1940s and ‘50s, Mom and Dad spelled it out about the dangers and hazards that could occur on the farm, and if we forgot, we could look forward to the wooden spoon treatment.
Farmers overcome obstacles
We children were fascinated when Walter Kemmerer, friend of Mom and Dad’s, would come to the farm. Walt could play “500”, help take a calf into the ring at the fair and throw small square bales as well as anyone with his hook or gripper full arm prothesis. Mr. Kemmerer had lost his arm in a farming accident which involved a corn picker.
Other neighbors in other counties also showed their resilience and determination by learning how to use their prosthetics for farm work.
It wasn’t until the early 1970s after moving to the Lincoln County area, with our flock of sheep, that I met Marvin Schilling from the Marathon area. Mr. Schilling had won the State Sheep Shearing Contest at the Wisconsin State Fair years before, and he was known for shearing small flocks across the northern tier of the state.
Marv was a master of his trade. He was a little slower that some others, but he was calm, efficient, and steady, and he handled the sheep with expertise. The unique thing about Marvin Schilling was that he had lost his shearing arm in a piece of farm equipment shortly after the state contest and had to relearn how to shear while using his left arm and hand. He continued to shear the sheep and buy the wool from us until his retirement.
Tractor roll bars are needed
My father and grandpa seemed to have avoided many of the hazardous farm equipment accidents. The duo was slow, steady and consistent with their tasks on the farm, and they kept the equipment in good working order. They both knew the value of a good grease gun and oil can. They also never pretended to be mechanics.
Now my Uncle Gordon was somewhat of a different story. He was generous, stubborn, competitive and a great family man; however, his neighbors often remembered him as one who “worked fast and lived fast.”
I remember the early June morning in 1952 when Mom got the long-distance call from a very pregnant Aunt Charlotte at Forest. Mother expected to hear about the arrival of a new baby, but rather she heard: “Your brother Gordon is in the hospital. He rolled the tractor.”
Charlotte went on to say that “Gordon had jumped on the “H” to chase after a wayward heifer going down the driveway. She made it to the road, but when Uncle Gordon got to the end of the drive, he put on the brakes, the tractor swerved out of control, and overturned pinning Gordy to the ground under one of the big wheels.
Aunt Charlotte saw the overturned implement and screamed loud enough for neighbor, Howard Blomberg to hear and come rushing to the scene. With adrenaline strength Howard was able to lift the tractor and Aunt Charlotte pulled the injured farmer out.
Uncle Gordon spent two months in the New Richmond hospital recovering from severe injuries, but he and Aunt Charlotte went on to raise five children. Son Mark and wife Christy and family still reside on the home place today, and they continue to milk a large productive herd of bovines.
Farm safety plays a bigger role
Recently farm safety has become a greater concern for farmers and manufacturers. Communication specialists with the National Farm Medicare Center report that “about half of the tractors in operation don’t have rollover protection and seat belts.” They go on to report that “many tractors stay on the farm for 30-40 years and are still in service”.
Roy, another of Mother’s siblings, farmed near Langdon, North Dakota. He too, made a near fatal mistake when he got caught in a power takeoff. He caught hold of the hayrack, lost all his clothing, but did manage to avoid the “grim reaper” with only a few bumps and bruises.
Hurry, distraction, worry and weariness often play a role in farm safety.
For me on the farm, the biggest fear was always the sheep pen or the cow yard. Our parents always warned us kids to never go out into the cow yard, “no matter what!” A big Holstein bull and a clean-up Angus bull resided on our farm until the Tri-State breeder service started providing a reliable inseminator in the early 1960s.
Dad and Grandpa always said, “You can never trust a bull”, and they didn’t. They never went out the north door of the barn without a pitchfork no matter what the age of the bull. If the bull was young, it got a ring in its nose, but if nearing 9 months, it had the ring and the chain, and one could hear him coming.
It only took me one time to learn that although a ram was much smaller than a bull, he could still pack a powerful wallop. Through the years, I have been dumped into grain bins, chased up hay feeders and have gotten hit too many times to count. It just plain hurts! What a relief when I could sell the woolie at the end of the second breeding season.
Harvest season will soon be here along with slow moving vehicles, equipment breakdowns, market downturns, and wayward livestock. We all need to keep in mind that whether mentally or physically, we must heed the warning to: “Be Careful, Farming May Be Hazardous to Your Health.”