Disability can’t keep this farmer down

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CARLISE, Pa. – Tim Fuller’s pedicure clients are pretty hefty. Averaging about 1,500 pounds, his girls can be a little touchy about getting their nails done. They frequently fidget, often kick, and don’t care to stand in the hot sun or cold wind while Fuller carefully sees to the health of their hooves.
Due to his disability, Fuller doesn’t tolerate the hot sun or cold wind, either. Nor is he able to bend for hours upon end to shave, buff and shine.
Back pain. Since 1999, Fuller has been coping with debilitating back pain created by two degenerated disks, compound fractures of the vertebrae in his upper back, and the subsequent arthritis brought on by both issues. For several years he was able to manage his business with the assistance of hired help, who would, for example, drive from farm to farm while Tim lay in the back seat trying to find some relief.
Finally, he realized he couldn’t go on without more radical medical intervention. Several times a week for 10 weeks, he was placed on a decompression table and he received frequent chiropractic treatments. He also received regular steroid injections and lost 45 pounds.
Today, he regularly does a series of stretches to facilitate movement and prevent further injury. He hopes that someday soon he might undergo the relatively new procedure that replaces the injured disk with an artificial one, allowing him to once again move with ease.
A vision. During the months when Fuller could no longer work, he spent a great deal of time planning the ultimate hoof-trimming trailer that would provide less stress on his clients and allow him to do his work independently and with significantly less pain and physical stress.
In his mind’s eye, he could see the finished product with a hydraulic lift for the cows that would literally roll them to their sides and lift them to eye level, where their hooves could be easily managed. He knew he wanted an enclosed environment and recognized that would require a cattle trailer with a raised ceiling.
Fuller, of Carlise, Pa., also knew he wanted the trailer insulated to keep it warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Since he would work inside, both he and the cows would be much more comfortable and less exposed to sun, rain, snow, wind and other weather issues.
Fuller’s trailer would include a small living area where he would be able to cook simple meals and sleep in relative comfort between jobs. Outside, a series of gates would move the cows from barnyard to inside chute with little agitation and significantly more efficiency.
A generator would allow him to serve Amish clients and also help out at farms where equipment wattages did not match up with the available electrical supply.
He had a design; he just needed the resources to make it happen.
Getting help. Then in 2004, Fuller was introduced to the Office for Vocational Rehabilitation and later to AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians. He learned the AgrAbility Project works with farmers and farm family members who are struggling with an injury or long-term health condition to identify equipment and modifications that will allow them to continue to farm.
AgrAbility staff listened carefully to Fuller’s needs and ideas, then helped him apply for the Office for Vocational Rehabilitation’s special Independent Capital Access Network grant. The grant is specifically made available to small business owners to pay for disability-related expenses associated with employing an individual with special needs. The grant provided about 80 percent of the funds to pay for the trailer, table, and gate system.
The trailer sports the tilting table, high ceilings, insulation, lighting and living areas. It also has cameras mounted at the sides and rear to allow Tim to back-up without twisting. While the gating system takes a bit of time to set up – about 20-30 minutes – it saves significant amounts of time throughout day.
Makes a difference. All these changes have made a huge difference in Fuller’s comfort level and they’ve further enhanced his existing reputation as someone who is gentle and thoughtful with his bovine customers.
“Tim always was a good man with my animals,” said Jake Tanis, of Ideal Holsteins in Centre Hall, Pa.
“The new system takes his work to a whole new level, however. The cows are much less stressed with the hydraulic table and more comfortable both before and during their trim. He truly cares about the health and welfare of his clients, both animal and human, and it shows in his work. I’m glad he is back on his feet and able to do the work he loves.”
Fuller is enjoying his newfound freedom.
“I like working with cows; especially top-grade animals. It gives me a real sense of satisfaction when they do well in the judging of their feet and legs during a competition. It’s equally as rewarding to see a cow walk correctly around the barnyard and know that I have helped make her more comfortable and helped the farmer gain better production.”
There’s help. AgrAbility for Pennsylvanians helps individuals who are coping with many kinds of physical challenges, including arthritis, stroke, knee and back problems, amputations and vision and hearing disabilities. The project is funded through a grant from the USDA.
For information about the project or to find out how AgrAbility can help you, call 866-238-4434.

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