Dairy Farmer Remains Active Despite Knee and Back Problems

Located in the hills of Somerset County you will find Little Piney Farm, a dairy farm owned and operated by Richard Coughenour and his family. The farm consists of raising approximately 7 beef cows and 40 dairy cattle, on 234 acres. Acreage includes 95 hay, 55 corn, and 10 oats. “I’ve been a dairy farmer all my life,” Coughenour said. Due to his father’s health condition as a disabled Veteran, Coughenour took over his family’s farm at a young age. “I had a fairly heavy workload when I was younger, and I guess I’m paying the price for it now.”

In 1998, Coughenour was involved in an animal incident that resulted in orthopedic impairment in his knee, which caused fluid in his knee and progressed to swelling. For about two years after the incident, Coughenour continued to receive medical treatment for his knee. In addition to his knee injury, Coughenour was diagnosed with back impairment in 2002-2003. This impairment was caused by completing daily farm responsibilities. Also, as with many farmers, Coughenour has difficulties with pain when required to squat, during repetitive lower extremity activities, and activities that require an increased range of motion of the lumbar spine.

Over the years, Coughenour’s daily farm duties consist of milking, fieldwork, feeding, hay making and operating the tractor and equipment. In order to keep completing these tasks, Coughenour contacted AgrAbility to find out how they could help him.

An important part of the AgrAbility process is connecting farmers to additional resources that can assist in their journey to independence on the farm. A key resource is the Office for Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), which is part of the PA Department of Labor and Industry. In Pennsylvania, OVR works with people who need to make career adjustments due to injuries or illness.

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This John Deere Gator saves Richard many steps doing his daily farm chores, such as bringing calves in from the pasture after a cow has calved. Richard is driving while his son Bradley holds the newborn Brown Swiss heifer named Snuggles and Bo, the lab, rides along. (Photo credit: Jackie Coughenour)

In 2006, AgrAbility staff member Linda Fetzer completed an on-farm assessment that helped Coughenour identify the duties he would most like to be able to complete independently. Once he qualified for OVR services through an individual review process, funding was available to Coughenour for a number of on-farm adjustments. Three goals were set in order to improve Coughenour’s daily tasks that involved milking, farm mobility, and accessing and operating the machinery.

Coughenour received modifications that fulfilled the three goals. These included pit parlor matting, a John Deere Gator utility vehicle to increase mobility and make completing tasks easier, steps for his tractor, and suspension seating for two of his tractors.

In 2014, Coughenour contacted AgrAbility a second time due to his health condition affecting his ability to complete necessary farm chores and tasks. During the on-farm assessment, completed by AgrAbility staff members Erica Bobbitt and Dr. Connie Baggett, Coughenour explained that in 2007 he underwent knee surgery, which later turned into total knee replacement in 2009. He also explained that he was suffering from additional back problems, specifically degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis.

After Coughenour went through the OVR process, he received funding for modifications. These modifications consisted of new air ride suspension seats for his tractors, which are much more suitable for supporting and positioning Coughenour as he completes daily tasks. Additional modifications consist of seat replacement in his John Deere Gator utility vehicle, which he uses for most farm activities and would aid in proper tolerance and positioning. Coughenour also received rubber cushion interlocking matting for his milking parlor, which offer much more support and prevention of manure from seeping underneath the matting, and a crowd gate. The crowd gate helps to move cows to the milking parlor once they are in the barn. Additionally, Coughenour received Bergman Speed Hitches. While speaking with Mrs. Coughenour, she explained that the hitches allow him to hook up and unhook forage wagons, to and from the forage harvester, without getting in and out of the tractor. “Every time I change from a loaded wagon to an empty wagon I would have to get out of the tractor two times and back in the tractor two times. Days that we cut 14 or 16 loads that saves a lot strain on my knees and back.” Coughenour said.

Coughenour explained that Wanda Satzer of OVR was instrumental in receiving the crowd gate modification. “I had a real good lady working at OVR and she fought good for me. Wanda grew up around Bedford County and knows farming, and that was very helpful in that respect.” Coughenour said. “The crowd gate has been really helpful.”

Coughenour is very satisfied with his involvement in AgrAbility and when asked about recommending it to other farmers with a disability he said, “Yes, as a matter of fact I already have.”

To find out more information about AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians, visit www.AgrAbilityPA.org or call (814) 867-5288.

Written by Colleen Pease, Graduate Assistant – AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians

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