Rancher Losing Sight but Keeping Lifestyle Through Colorado State Cooperative Extension Program

Almost thirty years ago, a veteran rancher found out he would go blind. It wasn’t something that would happen all at once, but it was the end he could expect over the course of time.

Gail Claussen has macular degeneration, a condition in which the blood vessels in the retina leak blood, creating clots and ultimately causing blindness. Claussen, now 64, had been ranching since the age of 18, and his life depended on his continuing to do so. With 3,000 acres of land, 70 registered cows and 18 quarter-horses, not to mention a family to feed, Claussen had no option but to press on even as his eyesight failed.

"It was disconcerting to wake up knowing I was going blind," said Claussen.

At first he was able to get around daily tasks such as identifying cows ready for breeding by spray painting "X"s on their hind quarters, but when the markings were no longer visible to him, Claussen knew he needed a better method. It was at this point that he was introduced to AgrAbility.

AgrAbility is a joint program between Colorado State University Cooperative Extension and Colorado Easter Seals. The program provides information, services and education to agricultural families with one or more people who are affected by physical limitations or a disability. Through AgrAbility, ranchers and farmers like Gail Claussen find effective ways to overcome and compensate for their disabilities and continue doing what they love.

"We provide AgrAbility workshops across Colorado," said Bob Fetsch, Colorado State Cooperative Extension human development specialist and coordinator of the workshops. "Our workshops are designed to give farmers and ranchers information and to help families understand the limitations and frustrations created by disabilities. We also give workshops for community professionals who work with farmers, ranchers or their family members who are affected by disabilities, either because they have a disability themselves or a close family member has one. Because of the nature of their work, farmers and ranchers with a disability face unique challenges."

Claussen, with the help of his wife Karol, a seeing-eye-horse named Silk Shotgun, a great sense of humor and AgrAbility, is able to keep his ranch running smoothly.

AgrAbility provides equipment that allows Claussen, who is legally blind but still retains some sight, to view and record important daily information such as how much weight his prize heifers have gained over the last week. This is possible with the use of what Claussen refers to as a "reading machine." It is essentially a camera that focuses onto a writing plate and then magnifies and projects Claussen’s notes or objects placed on the plate onto a television screen so that Claussen can see it.

"AgrAbility helps me figure out how to live with myself," Claussen said with a smile in his voice. After almost thirty years of dealing with the slow loss of his eyesight, Claussen maintains a positive attitude. He is full of the same spit-fire that his childhood stories contain. His gentle laugh and quick-witted sense of humor tell of a life full of meaning. This man, this father, this husband, will continue his dream of ranching long after his sight is gone.

For more information about AgrAbility or a workshop schedule, call Fetsch at Colorado State Cooperative Extension at (970) 491-5889.


AgrAbility Workshops in your area:

Call Colorado State Cooperative Extension at least ten days before the workshop you wish to attend to register. Pre-registration will include a box lunch between sessions. Note: Registration for all workshops is due by a week before each workshop and only those who have pre-registered will receive a free box lunch. For more information about the AgrAbility program or to register, call (970) 491-5889.

AgrAbility Tools for farmers and ranchers with disabilities or physical limitations workshops are scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon. AgrAbility Tools for Farmers and Ranchers with Disabilities and Their Families workshops are scheduled from:

  • 9 a.m. to noon, Tuesday, Oct. 31, Gunnison
  • 9 a.m. to noon, Thursday, Nov. 2, Rifle
  • 9 a.m. to noon, Tuesday, Nov. 14, Crowley
  • 9 a.m. to noon, Thursday, Nov. 16, Salida
  • 9 a.m. to noon, Tuesday, Nov. 28, Greeley
  • 9 a.m. to noon, Thursday, Nov. 30, Fort Morgan
  • 9 a.m. to noon, Tuesday, Dec. 5, Pagosa Springs
  • 9 a.m. to noon, Thursday, Dec. 7, Cortez

Free box lunches are served to those pre-registered from noon to 1 p.m.

AgrAbility Tools for professionals, is from 1- 4 p.m. and is for people who work with farmers and ranchers with a disability. AgrAbility Tools for Professionals workshops are scheduled from:

  • 1 to 4 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 31, Gunnison
  • 1 to 4 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 2, Rifle
  • 1 to 4 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 14, Crowley
  • 1 to 4 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 16, Salida
  • 1 to 4 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 28, Greeley
  • 1 to 4 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 30, Fort Morgan
  • 1 to 4 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 5, Pagosa Springs
  • 1 to 4 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 7, Cortez

Colorado State University Cooperative Extension brings the resources of the university to you. As part of a nation-wide system, we call upon the latest research to help Coloradans learn more about healthy eating, personal finances, community resources, agricultural technology, food safety, dealing with changes in their community, family relationships, and managing ranchettes or small acreages. Our youth development program annually reaches more than 144,000 children in Colorado. Our 54 county offices, serving 57 Colorado counties, help people use university expertise on the job, at home and in their community.