After a baler injury, Justin Birch can now move and stack hay bales easily with the addition of a coverall building.
September 20, 2020, was just a regular day on the farm for Justin Birch – until everything changed.
Birch, who runs a third-generation beef farm near the east end boundary of Ottawa, was doing routine maintenance on top of his baler when he suddenly lost his footing. He instinctively put out his hand to stop from falling directly into the baler, which is when his right arm became caught in the rollers.
Despite getting quick help from neighbours and emergency services, doctors told Birch there was too much nerve damage to save his right arm and amputated it just below the elbow.
“Returning to work on the farm took lots of patience. When I came back to the farm, I had to figure out what I can do, what I can’t do, and what I have to figure out how to do,” says Birch.
While Birch was figuring out how to work without putting too much strain on his left arm, a family member told him about the Back to Ag Program. “When I looked into it, I thought this is pretty neat. I couldn’t believe that this is here to help me,” he says.
Birch started considering the top issues he needed to address on the farm. At the time, he was rolling and flipping hay bales by hand to store in his hayloft. He figured that if he could keep the bales outside in a shelter, he would be able to move and stack them with a tractor instead of manually.
Thanks to the Back to Ag Program, Birch was able to purchase a large fabric-covered building (coverall) to store hay bales, and he says the impact it had on his ability to get work done was immediate. “Now if I need hay, I just get the tractor and grab a bale so there’s no worries about getting hurt now.”
Best of all, says Birch, was that the Back to Ag application process was straightforward and very accommodating to his needs.
“The Back to Ag process was very simple. Everyone I dealt with would say, ‘What do you need? Tell us what you need.’ I really felt like they were interested in me and in helping me,” explains Birch, adding that program administrators even put him in touch with a farmer who had also lost an arm.
While Birch acknowledges it can be difficult for farmers to ask for help, he says other traumatically-injured farmers should consider applying in order to lessen challenges on the farm.
“I think the hardest part for farmers is to ask for help when they’re in need of it because they’re proud of what they have and what they do. But sometimes asking for help will make all the difference,” Birch explains. “There’s so much versatility with the Back to Ag Program, it’s all about what will help individuals farm better and farm safer.”