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Farmers and ranchers keep working through disability and injury

Hope Kirwan


  Zane Volkman has been riding for as long as he can remember.

From the steer he would ride through his family’s pasture, to a donkey and finally to his grandpa’s horse, Volkman was already an experienced rider when he started training colts for a local rancher at age 12.

But an accident in the summer before his senior year of high school made it unclear if Volkman would be able to continue his career on a horse. While working at a livestock market in Kingdom City, Mo., a routine dismount caused Volkman to break his back and sustain three brain bleeds.

“I was going at a pretty good clip down the alley,” Volkman said. “The momentum carried me up, I fell upside-down 9 ft. onto my head.”

It took six months for Volkman to get back in the saddle. When he did, the personality issues he had been experiencing since his brain injury all but disappeared.

“As soon as I stepped on a horse, I just like that changed back to old Zane because then I had a job to do and I could go out and I could get something done,” Volkman said.

After graduating high school, Volkman wanted to get back to training colts. His father went to the Missouri AgrAbilty Project to look for ways to help his son safely return to the profession he loved.

AgrAbility is a national USDA-funded program that advises farmers and ranchers with disabilities, injuries or chronic health conditions. Each state can also host their own AgrAbility project through a partnership between a land-grant university and a nonprofit disability organization. University of Missouri Extension and the Brain Injury Association of Missouri work together to serve around 126 Missouri farmers every year.

“We really are an information and resource broker,” said Karen Funkenbusch, Director of the Missouri AgrAbility Project. “We can provide them with a lot of information and help point them in the right direction so they can remain successful on their farm or ranch.”

The program provides free on-the-farm assessments to help farmers with a disability or injury develop a plan to maintain their career in agriculture. This often means finding adaptive or assistive devices, like a wheelchair lift for a tractor. But some plans are as simple changing the farmer’s routine.

To keep training colts, Volkman’s plan was easy: wear a helmet. He said before his injury he hated wearing a helmet while riding, but he now realizes that prevention is important.

“Yeah, you look goofy when you wear a helmet, but who cares? You're the one taking care of your brain,” Volkman said.

Volkman said it’s important to help farmers and ranchers because their work is more than an occupation - it’s a passion.

“We don't want to be taken out of our tractors. We don't want to get off our horses or quit running our cows or feeding our cows,” Volkman said. “We know our job is important to society and we want to keep on plugging away.”

Hope Kirwan left KBIA in September 2015.
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