AUBURNDALE, Wis. — A day away from the farm is one that many farmers may view with both anticipation and apprehension. Alongside the excitement of whatever adventure lies ahead comes the looming questions of what might go wrong to derail the day. Will the heifers get out? Will the barn cleaner break?
Last fall, Steve Becker learned that he could not even imagine the things that might keep him from enjoying a day away.
Becker and his wife, Shelly, and their family milk 75 cows on their Auburndale farm, where they have been farming for nearly 20 years.
The morning of Oct. 6, 2022, the Beckers were finishing chores and doing a quick herd health check. They planned to travel to Madison to attend World Dairy Expo.
“We had let the cows out after herd health and were chatting with the vet for a few minutes,” Becker said. “My youngest daughter had stayed home from school to go along because she had never been to Expo before. I realized I had left my coffee mug down at the other end of the barn, so I took off running down the walk to grab it.”
From that moment on, the day took a different trajectory and caused Becker to miss attending WDE for the second time in 28 years.
“I’m not sure why I was running,” Becker said. “It’s not like my coffee was that big of a deal. I slipped on the cross plate over the gutter, and when my leg hit the plate, I felt and heard it snap.”
Becker said he suffered a compound fracture and that the plate had cut through the skin, creating an open wound.
“I knew right away it was pretty bad and that we weren’t going to Expo anymore, just to the hospital,” Becker said. “My dog, Bocephus, was right there licking me. I told my wife to bring the truck around to the closest point and asked the vet to take my boot off because I could feel my foot starting to swell really badly.”
Shelly and the vet helped Becker to the truck, and they headed toward the local hospital to seek treatment.
Becker said he began to think of the consequences of his accident while waiting to see the doctor.
“It wasn’t just the trip to Expo; that wasn’t a big deal,” Becker said. “But I sat there thinking about crops. We were planning on doing corn silage that weekend, and I was going to be laid up in a cast.”
Much to Becker’s relief, when the doctor came in, he learned that he would not be casted, because of the wound where the plate had cut his leg when he fell.
“They told me that with the broken skin, infection was a concern,” Becker said. “The environment inside a cast was prime breeding ground for bacteria.”
Instead, Becker underwent surgery where a rod was placed through the bone and held in place by screws at each end. The rod will remain in place throughout Becker’s lifetime.
By 3:30 p.m., Becker was in the operating room, and he was back in his room, coming out of anesthesia by 5:30 p.m. He spent the night in the hospital but was released the next day.
“They told me they wouldn’t remove the rod unless it eventually caused me problems,” Becker said. “Then somewhere I saw a video of a surgery removing the rod and I said no way was I going through that no matter how much trouble it might ever cause.”
Becker did question the doctor about how the rod might affect the potential knee replacement.
“The doctor told me the rod was all set up for a knee replacement, made to attach to a replacement knee,” Becker said. “It was like the farmer’s special.”
The rod allowed Becker to bear weight on the leg immediately, and the leg was wrapped with a bandage to keep the incision and wound clean.
“They actually told me that activity would help speed healing,” Becker said. “I used a crutch to help with balance and support for a while, but I didn’t have to rely on it.”
Becker scoffed at the idea of taking it easy and found himself back at work following his release from the hospital.
“They knew I was unlikely to take it easy, so the only thing they asked of me was to stay out of the barn because of the infection risk,” Becker said. “I didn’t milk, and I mostly stayed out of the barn, just quick visits to check on things.”
Friends, family and neighbors showed up to the Beckers’ farm to ensure the corn silage was chopped that weekend as planned. Becker was able to get into the tractors and take part in the process as well.
“I could do most everything in the tractors, but some things were just too much jostling,” Becker said. “I would be sore and swelled up by the end of the day, but that was manageable with elevation and ice in the evenings.”
Becker even managed to make it to the homecoming dance to watch his daughter participate as a member of the homecoming court.
Attending World Dairy Expo has become something of a tradition for Becker.
“I started going to Expo with my school’s FFA when I was in seventh or eighth grade,” Becker said. “Last year was only the second time I’ve missed since then, so I’ve missed two times in maybe the last 28 or so years.”
Becker went to Expo this year, making the trip to Madison to take in the final day of the show.
“I just made sure there was no coffee around this year,” Becker said.
Despite the aggravation caused by the injury, Becker said his family came through and the farm never missed a beat.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my wife and the kids,” Becker said. “They filled in for me and took care of the things I couldn’t do. That was a huge weight off my shoulders, knowing that the farm could function at full capacity even if I couldn’t.”
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