EDEN, Wis. – John Rohlfs was just 3 years old when he lost one of his arms in a farm accident. On a fall morning in 1974 during corn harvest, Rohlfs’ left arm got caught in a feed grinder and was severed just below the shoulder.

    “I was supposed to be in the barn with my mom, but instead, I ran off to see what my dad was doing,” Rohlfs said. “My dad picked me up, and while he was holding me, I stuck my arm in the opening between the two augers. In that split second, the feed sucked my hand down into the auger and cut off my arm.”
    Because he was so young, Rohlfs has no memory of the event other than hearing his dad yell for his mom while wrapping Rohlfs in towels to control the bleeding.
    “They didn’t stop to call 911 and just took me straight to the hospital themselves,” Rohlfs said. “That’s the only thing I remember from my pre-kindergarten days.”
    Agriculture is consistently ranked one of the most dangerous industries. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 581 people died in farm accidents in 2017, which is equal to 23 deaths per 100,000 workers. Thousands more were injured.
    Since 1944, the third week of September has been declared National Farm Safety and Health Week. Designed to increase awareness of safety issues on the farm and make farmers and farm workers more safety-conscious, this year’s Farm Safety Week will take place Sept. 15-21. Promoting safe and healthy practices that prevent accidents is the goal.
    Rohlfs, who has farmed his entire life with one arm, milks 90 cows and farms about 200 acres with his sister and brother-in-law, Julie and Tim Narges, and their children, Austin, Nick and Shayley. The farm has been in the family since 1896, and Rohlfs purchased it from his parents in 1994 at the age of 23.
    “Doing stuff with one arm comes natural to me,” said Rohlfs, who grew up feeding calves and doing other farm chores with one hand. “I grew up doing everything that way.”
    Rohlfs never let the fact he only has one arm slow him down. As a kid, he did everything other kids did, including playing sports like baseball, basketball and football. Rohlfs was even the point guard in basketball because he was such a good ball handler. Sports became lifelong interests of Rohlfs, who played basketball until he was 30 years old and baseball until just recently.
    “Sports were a big thing when I was younger to get me doing stuff,” Rohlfs said. “I wasn’t any better than the other kids, but I wasn’t any worse either. My football coach told me that he would never forget what my dad once told him: ‘Don’t give John any special treatment because he has one arm.’ But my coach said he didn’t have to because I was right there with everyone else in my ability.”
    Rohlfs used to wear a prosthetic arm to school and church but found it to be more of a hindrance than a benefit and stopped using it when he was in the seventh grade. Losing a limb as a young child required Rohlfs to have his upper arm bone shortened to prevent it from growing out of the skin – a grueling procedure he sometimes endured on a yearly basis.
    “That was the worst part of it all,” Rohlfs said.
    When Rohlfs was 14 years old, a new type of procedure put an end to these regular operations. The UW-Madison hospital performed a procedure on Rohlfs in which they removed cartilage from his hip and placed it on the end of his arm bone.
    “They zigzagged it in, and that was the last surgery I ever needed, even after growing more than a foot during high school,” Rohlfs said.
    Rohlfs is good at adapting and finding innovative ways to do things one-handed. For example, Rohlfs can easily tie his shoes with one hand and is currently teaching a neighbor’s kid who also has one arm how to do the same. Rohlfs also has no problem milking cows.
    “Milking is easy,” said Rohlfs, who mastered the technique of milking with one hand when he was 16 years old. “I do it every day.”
    Rohlfs is in the process of building a milking parlor after a tornado ripped through his farm on Aug. 28, 2018. The tiestall barn suffered major damage and is being replaced by a swing-12 parlor.  
    “Learning to milk in the parlor will be a new challenge for me,” Rohlfs said. “But I’m confident I can figure it out.”
    Pounding in a nail or greasing something with a grease gun are a couple tasks Rohlfs does find somewhat complicated.
    “I’ll shove the nail in first and then start pounding,” Rohlfs said. “I manage to find a way around most everything and learn how to do it with one hand. I just keep trying until I figure it out.”

    Rohlfs can also operate all the farm’s equipment but said his skid steer has been specifically adapted for use with one hand, featuring modified hand and foot controls.
    Rohlfs’ accident often puts safety top of mind for the Fond du Lac County dairy farmer.
    “I worry most about the young ones,” Rohlfs said. “Little kids are so curious, and that can be dangerous.”
    Rohlfs said machines like the one he was injured in have a cover over the opening now to make them safer.  
    Ever since he was little, Rohlfs has relied on the use of just one arm and hand to complete all kinds of tasks – where most people would require two.
    “Life with one arm is all I’ve ever known,” Rohlfs said. “To me, it doesn’t even seem like I have just one arm. What I do looks amazing to some people, but to me it’s just normal, everyday stuff. I think with one arm instead of two.”