OLDS, Alta. — Ray Murphy was the kind of farmer who was always busy and always wanted things done right.
But on one fateful day in 2009, everything at his northeastern Alberta farm went wrong.
It was the day before he was scheduled for open heart surgery in Edmonton, and he was loading cattle for sale when he noticed some were missing ear tags, including a mature bull.
He decided to tag them himself after the hired man left to help a neighbour.
“I had the proper facilities for handling livestock and I thought we were relatively safe,” he said during a farm safety meeting in Olds this month.
Looking back, he realizes he was probably in a hurry and lost patience when the bull’s head proved too large for the chute.
Murphy stood on a two-foot-high catwalk outside the runway and tried to reach into the chute and tag the bull. Its head was down and Murphy was struggling to grab the ear. Suddenly, it reared its head and knocked the 59-year-old backward.
He could breathe, talk and think when he came to but had no other movement.
The hired man found him 30 minutes later and summoned help. He travelled by ambulance to Bonnyville, Alta., and was eventually sent to Edmonton.
The accident left him without the use of his legs and only partial use of his right arm.
He ended up with two six inch rods in his back and spent three months in hospital recovering. Another three months were spent in a rehabilitation hospital, and he agreed to participate in three spinal cord injury research projects over the next year for the University of Alberta.
“It helped me somewhat physically, but also it was good for the mind to adjust to a life change,” he said.
Neighbours raised $20,000, and he was able to buy a four wheel drive wheelchair so that he can get around the farm.
“It wasn’t so much a need, but it was their way of expressing concern,” he said.
This year, he and his wife, Leona, are retiring from the 3,500 acre farm where they also raised 300 head of registered Charolais and Angus.
“It is not what he wanted to do before the accident,” Leona said.
“He would have wanted to stay on the farm until he was 100, but reality is going to take over.”
He still looks back at what he could have done differently.
“Try to avoid working alone,” he said, adding that people should know where everyone is when they are working.
If he had help that day, they may have decided to halter the bull or pay the auction market $5 to properly restrain the bull in an hydraulic squeeze.
He also advised taking a first aid course and having breakfast conversations about safety.
It’s also important to think about loss of income because every farm carries debt.
Most financial institutions require life insurance, but few offer disability insurance. The Murphys carried some coverage, but it was not enough.
He said he had planned to obtain more after buying a quarter section of land but didn’t get the required medical examination done in time before his accident.
“Anytime you have an accident, there is financial stress on your farm,” he said.
“Think about preparing for that.”
And finally: “Slow down and think about what the results of an accident might be.”