Seeing as how National Farm Safety Week is now behind us, perhaps bringing this topic up is a day late and a dollar short. Then again, is it ever the wrong time to discuss farm safety?
    I’m going to believe that is not the case for the folks reading this column. When you choose farming as your way of life, safety ranks among the top concerns. I don’t think of farmers as being ignorant of the dangers their choices possess. I think of them as being confident that they’ve done this a million times before and all went well, why would it go wrong this time?
    During the dog days of summer, between my sophomore and junior years of high school, a simple choice my dad made in the heat of the moment ended in a helicopter landing in the field. Dad was chopping hay on a sloped spot behind our barn; he yanked on the pull cord to release the draw pin and continued on to hook up the waiting empty wagon. As he did, the full box started to roll down the hill. Upon the quick realization that the full box of fresh haylage was headed for the woods, he launched out of the tractor and grabbed the tongue of the wagon and turned it with all his might. One man’s rush of adrenaline was no match for a chopper box filled to the brim. As he turned, it knocked him down and rolled him underneath the box as it rolled on its way.
    Peter was the first on the scene, as he was driving the tractor for the next load. I remember being in the house watching television as he came across the two-way radio calling to Mom for help. I entertained my siblings as she flew out to the scene. The ambulance crew quickly assessed his injuries; a punctured lung, shattered hip, and a myriad of other things, and called for MedFlight. The helicopter landed in our hay field and lifted him out and off to LaCrosse.
    From this point my memory is a bit spotty. I recall milking cows, hanging out laundry when a neighbor pulled up with a box of groceries that included pickles and potato chips, and many trips to La Crosse. My youngest brother Tony celebrated his birthday in the hospital with Dad, driving his new tricycle up and down the hallways. Dad was in traction for many weeks, and had a hospital bed in the living room when he finally came home. We rented a golf cart to let him cruise around the farm as he was healing. He recovered and walked with a pronounced limp for years due to the hip, and has had subsequent replacements (those parts aren’t warrantied for the hard working lifetime of a farmer).
    This was by far the worst accident he’s had in all his years of farming. Don’t read this to think it was his only one. He had an altercation with a PTO while filling silo that pulled the skin off his arm shortly before I was born. He broke his leg climbing a gate and slipping off. It’s likely there are others that I don’t even know about – both close calls and actual hospital runs.
    Farming is his dream job, so he carries on.
    Nearly two and a half weeks ago, our dear chopper operator, Ray Baby, made a quick mistake while getting ready to come to our farm and finish fourth crop. He reached into the chopper head to assess the knives without pausing to turn off the machine. This misstep resulted in the loss of his entire pinkie, and part of his ring finger and middle finger on his right hand. To be fair, it could have been much worse; the glove he had on could have caused his entire hand to have been pulled into the chopper head. A new member of his crew was at the shop with him and delivered him to the hospital for surgery and stitches.
    Now as we start chopping corn, there’s our beloved Ray Baby, at the helm. You can find him climbing in and out of the chopper, tightening up springs on things, maneuvering his right hand with caution so as not to bump it on anything. The stitches are out. He is working on flexing his fingers, while sporting some interesting facial expressions that give us an insight to the pain of his healing. As I warned him that he may find his way into my column, he said, “Tell them it can happen to anybody.” The other guys in the crew chimed in with tales of other farmers, coming to the conclusion that it seems people get too comfortable with their machines and their own abilities. The consensus was that every farmer most likely has at least one chilling story of a close call or a hospital visit.
    Ray is about the most easygoing guy you’ll ever meet. He has a delightful ability to move on and make the best of his situation. He has resumed pounding out songs on the drums with his band and is adapting how he works on machinery. As I ask the boys if they’d like to see his hand (as a mother does, trying to scare them into safety), Ray quips, “I’ll give you a high two!” I shake my head and roll my eyes, and he reminds me (and himself) it could have been far worse.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (toddler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.