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Management

Machinery maintenance done in the offseason saves time, money and stress

Machinery breakdowns are a fact of life on a farm or ranch, but these frustrating problems can be minimized by timely maintenance.  This is where the old saying “a stitch in time saves nine” is very true.  

Ed Snook, a rancher from near Tendoy, Idaho, says he tries to do oil changes in the spring and fall when his machinery isn’t in the field. 

Offseason benefits

“Before haying I go through all the equipment and see if any parts need replaced,” he says.

If a person does the repairs in the offseason, there’s more opportunity for discounts on parts.  

“Many implement dealers and supply outfits have specials – maybe 10 percent  off – if producers order parts in January and February. They are trying to make some money during their slack time,” says Snook.

“I spend about $15,000 in repairs each year, so 10 percent is a big savings. We can’t save money every time; if we’re faced with a breakdown during haying, we have to fix it immediately,” he says.  

Preventative measures

Some of these breakdowns can be prevented, however, if a person goes through everything ahead of time and replaces worn parts.

“After calving, I start in on my haying equipment and do the repairs,” Snook says. “One of my neighbors had a problem with his big feed tractor and had to leave it at the tractor repair shop through winter, which made it difficult for him to feed his cattle.” 

“I’m mechanically inclined, so I do these repairs myself,” he adds. “It makes a big difference not having to wait on someone who is really busy and can’t work it into their schedule quickly.”

Being familiar with the equipment, a person has a better idea about what might need attention.  

Simple maintenance

“One of the simplest things is to regularly grease all the machines.  Some people might not do it often enough or adequately.  There might be a U-joint that’s only being greased on three sides, and it has four sides.  If producers don’t grease that side, it eventually goes out,” says Snook.

“My sister Charlotte helps me with haying during summer, and she is very good about maintaining the equipment she’s running.  She’ll grease it and will tell me if she can’t get the grease to go into a fitting.  I’ll take that grease zerk out and make sure it’s taking grease,” he says.

If a person has hired help, employees need to know how to do the maintenance or repairs or alert the rancher to things that need attention.  

“Communication is important, and it’s helpful if the person running the equipment knows how to maintain it,” he says.

“Years ago, when my dad had a trucking business and a post and pole business along with the ranch and haying, I worked in the shop a lot and sometimes it was hard to remember when or if I changed the oil in such-and-such vehicle or machine,” he continues.  

Keeping records

“I kept a log book in the shop and had each item listed – what year the pickup, truck or machine was – and write down the oil changes and list the oil filter and what kind. The next time I’d do it, I could look at that page and know what I might need—and make sure I had it before I did the oil changes,” says Snook.

Keeping track of records is helpful, Snook adds, noting that records can notify the equipment owner if parts are still under warranty and can help save money.

It helps to keep a maintenance calendar in the shop.  A large planning calendar is a useful reminder for listing repair and service operations needed in the months ahead for each piece of machinery. This is more effective than memory, especially when more than one operator uses the machines.  

Another handy tip is to cover all charts and calendars with Plexiglas and then record data with a grease pencil.  At the end of the year, notes can be erased and the chart and calendar reused.

Maintain the old

His advice regarding self sufficiency in repairs is to not buy new equipment.  

“I can’t fix the new models with computers, but I can fix any of the older equipment.  I have a hard time figuring out the new ones,” he explains. “We have a lot of old tractors that are still running very well.  For instance, we have a 1968 40-20 John Deere, and it still works great.”  

“As long as a person takes care of these good old tractors, they will last a long time.  It’s when they become neglected or abused that things start going bad,” says Snook.  

A person can extend machinery life a long time with proper maintenance.

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..