Wheelchair doesn’t stop Nebraska man from ranching, auctioneering — or teaching youth about farm safety
Story and Photos by Amy G. Hadachek
There are numerous reasons why Hebron, Neb. rancher and farm activist Clayton Hergott wants to instill the next generation with intensive farm safety knowledge.
Propelled with a passion for safety on the farm, Hergott, who overcame his own emotional obstacles of being disabled, had a goal to offer an agriculture safety camp for kids ... and didn’t stop thinking about it until he acted on his dream.
It is about to become a reality.
On April 10, the Thayer County Farm Safety Day Camp will be held for Thayer County third-grade classes at the Hebron Sale Barn in Hebron, sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension’s Thayer County office, as well as the Nebraska Farm Bureau and Dupont Pioneer. The children will be provided the opportunity to learn about electrical safety, livestock handling and safety, as well as ATV (all-terrain vehicle) safety, grain safety and chemical safety, and learn where their food comes from.
There will also be a session on Nebraska AgriAbility, which enabled Hergott himself, to stay active on the farm.
With this Farm Safety Camp just about full, Hergott hopes to offer an additional session next spring.
“This is the first year to offer this camp for the kids, but I hope to be able to secure funds to make it an annual event, because if we can keep kids involved in rural agriculture and keep them safe, then rural America will be a better place. It should be a great day, and I am truly excited to bring all these different groups of people together to help,” Hergott said.
Although he was born disabled and previously used crutches to get around before being confined to a wheelchair, Hergott still maintains a cow herd, and bought the sale barn in Hebron, where he enjoys checking on his cows when they’re calving.
“Purchasing the sale barn in Hebron a couple years ago is perfect because it is only two blocks from my house and allows me to ride my wheelchair down to do chores and check cows when they are calving. I love my cows and they are what give me a reason to get up each morning,” Hergott told The Fence Post.
Hergott owns about 40 head of registered Simmental and Red Angus cows, which he raised. He also sells bulls and also, occasionally replacement heifers.
On top of that, this energetic rancher thrives on being an auctioneer at the Belleville 81 Livestock in Belleville, Kan., just a half-hour south of his home across the border.
“As you can see, I can’t sit still very well, which is ironic because all I can do is sit,” exclaimed Hergott, good-naturedly. “But in all seriousness, these factors all combined, to give me the passion for staying safe on the farm. Being exposed to agriculture all of my life, and knowing the challenges that I go through on a daily basis, makes me want to encourage the youth to stay safe and be all that they can be,” Hergott added.
Despite being wheelchair-bound, Hergott accomplishes daily much more than doing his farm chores and the part-time auctioneering position. He has also been a cost accountant for Reinke Manufacturing Company, Inc. in Deshler, Neb., for the past 10 years.
Hergott became active with the Farm Bureau three years ago, and currently is a member of the Thayer County Farm Bureau Board.
Speaking of this upcoming safety camp, he said, “This allows me to have a say in the future of agriculture, and has also given me a platform to tell my story, and make lives better for others. I brought my safety day idea to my board and some state level Nebraska Farm Bureau employees, and everybody was immediately on board.”
Hergott’s zest and heartfelt concern for the next generation was the push behind a pivotal, successful step in the process.
“I wrote a grant with the help of Kerry Hoffschneider, director of membership marketing for the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation. She did a ton of work behind the scenes, and she is the unsung hero here. Before she moved to the farm bureau, she worked for DuPont Pioneer and was instrumental in helping me with writing the grant,” shared Hergott.
He told the Fence Post that after Hoffschneider took the concept of a farm safety camp from an idea to getting it off the ground, they received $2,500 from DuPont Pioneer to help put on this special day.
“Once we had this money, I’ve had other businesses and groups step up to the plate as well,” relayed Hergott.
After setting up a meeting with Crystal Fangmeier, who’s an associate at the UNL Thayer County Extension office, the plan for the safety camp gained momentum.
“We decided that our target age group would be third grade, so Crystal sent out the emails to the school administrators and got their commitments for the safety camp. We decided on April 10, 2014, at my sale barn, as it would be a central location with plenty of room for both the kids and stations for the activities,” said Hergott. “While this year we are doing a closed enrollment with only the third graders in Thayer County, if we can secure enough funds for next year we will open it up for public attendance by adding an additional session or sessions.”
Then, Hergott and Fangmeier established the type of sessions and stations to offer the children.
“We contacted Norris Public Power about doing a station on electrical safety and they have agreed to come out and do a presentation. I also contacted Barry Kort, owner of Belleville 81 Livestock and he agreed to come do a presentation on livestock handling and safety, as well as other safety aspects on the farm. There will also be a special station about the Nebraska AgrAbility group and what they have done to help me stay active on the farm,” said Hergott, adding, “This station is more to show the kids how I stayed on the farm, and what adaptations are out there to help anyone stay active, following any tragic safety accident.”
He added, “I feel that ATV safety is extra important in this day in age because it seems like many more families are buying them for recreation, thus exposing kids who normally wouldn’t be at risk to have an accident.”
He emphasized it’s also important to teach kids where their food and fabric comes from, because it gives them a greater appreciation of all the hard work that goes into products without taking it for granted.
During the farm safety camp, participants will receive a little snack and safety orange T-shirts, plus bottles of water donated by Reinke Manufacturing — in addition to the safety knowledge they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. ❖