Sharon Farmer Keeps Going With Help From AgrAbility

ATV helps David Travis get around easier on his 130-cow Walworth County dairy farm.

Published on: May 17, 2013

By Jennifer Bradley

The cows at the Travis family farm in Sharon are happy, says Sharon Travis. They should be. This Century Farm in Walworth County was started in 1901 by David Travis' great-grandparents, and with the modernizations the current generations have made, the herd has never been more content.

However, five decades of milking cows began taking a toll on the herd's caretaker through arthritis and back pain. With the help of the AgrAbility Program, 65-year-old David Travis has been given an extended opportunity to work his farm.

AgrAbility is a USDA-funded program through the Cooperative Extension Service and in partnership with Easter Seals. Paul Leverenz, the vice president of FARM and Vocational Services at Easter Seals Wisconsin, says that the program representatives want to be able to come to the farm and address an entire operation. He adds that small adjustments, such as those David has seen, all add up to the benefits of more support and less pain.

Daniel, Sharon and David Travis are proud of their new milking parlor.
Daniel, Sharon and David Travis are proud of their new milking parlor.

Added mobility
A Kubota ATV gives David transportation across uneven ground, especially since the milking parlor and calves are now located on opposite ends of the property. The AgrAbility program also provided extra steps to his tractors, so the first step is not as high, says Sharon, David's wife.

In-floor heating and automatic takeoffs in the parlor really made a big difference, eliminating bending and standing on concrete for extended periods of time. "This has helped extend my farming career tremendously as far as being able to physically do the job," David says.

Daniel Travis, David and Sharon's son, is a University of Wisconsin-Platteville graduate. Daniel is the fourth generation of his family to farm on the home farm. He is very astute in his care of the animals and enjoys working with them, especially seeing and implementing changes through technological advances.

Daniel has five siblings who live off the farm: Christine, Alyson, Jeffrey, Adam and Alexander. Together, David and Sharon have 14 grandchildren, who can be found roaming the farm all summer long. They enjoy working on their 4-H animal projects and playing on the homemade swing set.

The six Travis children are showing a fifth generation the importance of family working side by side.

"We want to leave the farm better than we received it, and we've done that," says Sharon. "We want to pass on respect for the land and stewardship of it."

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In 2009, the Travis family expanded their herd from 40 to 130 cows. In 2012, they built a milking parlor. A new barn is slated for construction in 2014.

"The cows love their new home and are milking very well," says Sharon. The rolling herd average currently sits at 25,000 pounds of milk per cow. 

Daniel adds that beautification of the property has also been part of the family's focus.

When discussing the challenges on the farm over the years, the family politely says that transitioning the farm was the biggest one. Daniel explains that some of the growth was delayed because of this process, and Sharon agrees, noting that the older generation was very hesitant to discuss the topic.

"It's a legitimate fear," she says of the transition process. "However, communication is so, important, even in small things. You need to always be talking, and know what each person's challenges are."

The Travis family has a great story, which Sharon says she loves to tell. It's one of family, fun and a lot of sweat equity dedicated to something that is more than just a business — it's also a way of life.

Bradley lives in East Troy.

Program sustains farmers' ability to work
Paul Leverenz says the vast majority of people he and his colleagues work with through the AgrAbility program, now in its 20th year, are full-time family farmers. Smaller groups include multiple-family corporate farms and a growing segment of smaller niche farms. 

He says a farmer does not need to provide documentation of disability to qualify for AgrAbility assistance. A person simply must have a physical or cognitive illness or injury-related issue that is creating a limitation or barrier to work activity, whether it's a difficult time walking, pushing items, driving, etc. AgrAbility recommends solutions for a wide variety of concerns.

While some farmers may qualify for monetary assistance, more often than not, he says, "small changes in the work process or activities can make a big difference in how you feel at the end of the day."

Although he understands work cannot be eliminated, the manner and timing of the tasks may be modified. All staff members have farming backgrounds, which he says makes the trust factor between farmer and AgrAbility consultant much stronger.

The biggest hurdle for AgrAbility has been getting farmers to admit their needs and seek advice. Most of the people who are in the program come by referrals, but Leverenz recommends that anyone looking for options to help them continue farming longer and not be deterred by physical concerns contact AgrAbility. Contact information can be found at fyi.uwex.edu/agrability.