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WVU Extension program helps farmers continue to be productive and prosperous

Danny Vaughn carries bucket of feed to various cattle.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The adage “life happens” exists for a reason. On occasion, unforeseen circumstances lead to tragic events, and they affect people of all walks of life. Our resolve as people to get through tough times builds character and ultimately decides how our story is told, but not without help from family, friends, community and, hopefully, programs to assist.

Life happened to Danny Vaughn, a cattle producer in Greenbrier County. He didn’t ask for it or want it to—the husband and father was content with his life; however, a hazardous, slow moving log truck sprung out of the darkness on the interstate, and Vaughn swerved to miss it, wrecking in the process. After being cut out of his vehicle and suffering from extensive injuries and several tears in his aorta, he resolved his story didn’t end on that night or in the days following.

He went through months of rehabilitation and still copes with lingering injuries. As news spread, a sense of community kicked in, and neighbors helped care for his herd of cattle in the time immediately after his accident. But that wasn’t a viable solution for the long term, nor was paying someone to do the work for him. Vaughn turned to multiple agencies to get answers about he could continue to farm.

Eventually, he discovered the AgrAbility program, a partnership program incorporating various agencies that’s primarily led by West Virginia University Extension. After reaching out, he received a consultation about tools that would allow him to continue to farm, in turn providing for his family and making a living.

The program’s past principal investigator, Tom Stockdale, a retired associate professor and specialist with the WVU Safety and Health Extension, eventually got a call from Vaughn trying to find resources.

“I needed help, and playing phone tag with various entities really wasn’t moving fast enough. But I talked to Tom and he came down to Lewisburg within a couple days. He worked with the local West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services office to put in a funding request for equipment that would allow me to continue to farm,” Vaughn said. “Farming is my lifeblood, my wellspring. The ability to get tools to make my days easier was absolutely critical in continuing to work with the animals and land that I love.”

Vaughn received funding for gates, cattle handling chutes and a utility task vehicle to help him overcome mobility limitations. He said the UTV was the single most important piece of equipment, and since it’s at his standing level, he can slide in and out of it easier than climbing up on a full-sized tractor. Modified controls inside allow him to operate it easier. He said it allows him to do the majority of his daily activities around his land.

Even for those in great health, moving stubborn cattle from pasture to pasture or to different facilities is not an easy feat, but for those, such as Vaughn, that need additional help, the handling equipment helps make sure cattle are where they need to be.

After the initial meeting and help, Stockdale later returned to help Vaughn install some of the equipment, such as the bump gates, which allow the user to operate the gate without exiting a vehicle.

“As the outreach arm of the University, we’re here to help people as the boots on the ground — that’s our mission,” recounted Stockdale. “Through the AgrAbility program, we want people on these farms to stay here and keep farming. There’s all kind of technology available out there to help people who need it. We need to make sure they can access it.”

Vaughn has traveled and told his story at several national AgrAbility conferences, hoping that someone hears the message and finds strength in his story. Sharing it also serves as a positive reminder to those on the opposite side who work with people to find solutions for their situations just how important that work is and what positive effect it has on the life of someone who needs it. 

“The program is not just for people in catastrophic accidents. It’s for every farmer who has trouble doing what they love to do,” Vaughn said. “As the average age of farmers continues to climb, especially in West Virginia, it’s important people know about the program — something as common as severe arthritis can prevent people from doing the farm work they need to in order to make a living. But there’s a solution. You just have to know where to look.”

The program is one example of moving West Virginia forward. The more West Virginia can positively affect the health and ability of producers and agricultural business owners to do their work and keep productive farms, the more prosperity local economies can advance overall economic prosperity.

West Virginia Forward is a statewide collaboration led by West Virginia University, the state Department of Commerce and Marshall University to help grow the economy by adding jobs, investing in education and improving health and wellness to create the most prosperous West Virginia possible.

To learn more about the AgrAbility program, contact your local WVU Extension office.