Become Familiar With Your Farm Equipment

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Sometimes as horse folks, we tend to neglect, or take for granted, the horse power around our farm that doesn't eat and poop. This is the first in a series of articles about equipment around your farm to help you better understand and care for that expensive equipment.

“If you buy something new, the first thing you SHOULD do (but often this is the last thing we REALLY do) is read the owner’s manual,” said Bob Coleman, PhD, equine extension specialist, University of Kentucky. “This can help us operate whatever it is, and do it safely. Most instructions will tell you that you should be using ear protection. When you read the safety rules, they are there for a reason. If there are special shields on certain parts, they are supposed to be there--so leave them there.”

Learn how best to operate each piece of equipment. Such as, “What RPMs do I need to run at to get maximum efficiency?”

There are certain basics you need to learn about each machine. If it needs serviced and greased periodically, read the manual and follow directions. Know where the grease zerks (grease nipples) are, and how to properly apply grease. You must keep moving parts lubricated so they don’t wear out prematurely. If you miss one and it never gets lubricated, you might have to replace an expensive part or it could even ruin the entire piece of equipment.

“Know what kind of oil is recommended (synthetic or non-synthetic)," advised Coleman. "Don’t mix them. Change oil at appropriate intervals. Keep track of what kind you put in. If it’s a small engine that runs on gas, know what kind of gas or gas mix to use.”

He also said you should, “Read labels on the products you put in, and read the operator’s manual so you can get good use out of your equipment—not only longevity, but optimum performance while are using it. It’s frustrating to use an engine that is missing, or you have to rev it up too high and it becomes unsafe.”

Some of these things fall through the cracks because we are in a hurry and leave learning proper use and maintenance to the last minute (if we do it at all). Many farm and stable owners prefer to spend time with their horses than fixing or maintaining machinery, and there’s a knowledge gap or lack of comfort/confidence in correct operation of the equipment.

 “If that’s the case, find someone who can help you get comfortable with it," advised Coleman. "You might need to call in a neighbor who has a similar piece of equipment. Don’t be afraid to ask advice. We all have egos, but it doesn’t hurt to have them shattered; it might be your neighbor’s 16-year-old son (or daughter) who shows you how to run that new piece of equipment or fix the old one. If it’s something electronic, the younger generation is quicker at picking up on those things. They have a degree of comfort with newer things and can help you figure it out.”

It’s nice to be able to do basic repairs on the job—without having to haul your equipment to town or wait for a mechanic to schedule a farm call. That can save a lot of time and money. If you have the tools to do the job, you can take the broken piece apart (paying attention to what comes apart and where) and put it together after you fix it, and not have a piece left over and wonder where it was supposed to go!

Michael Thomas, a rancher near Baker, Idaho, said it might be hard to find an operator's manual for some of the older equipment, but usually the dealership can order one or you might even find a copy online. “If you want to get serious about repairing your own equipment, get the parts book," said Thomas. "It gives a blown-up diagram of the various pieces to show how these come apart and go back together.”

An operator's manual contains maintenance and trouble-shooting sections, but to really know what you are getting into before you start tearing a machine apart, you need the diagrams. “If you want to get parts through the local parts store without having to try to describe the ‘thing-a-ma-widget that attaches to the thing-a-ma-bob,’ the parts catalog will give you the proper name and number of the piece you need,” Thomas says.

Even if you have no intention of trying to repair your own equipment, for safety and to reduce your liability you should read the owner's manual when you get a new machine. This is important if you are going to have others use the equipment. If a weed eater needs a gas/oil mix and you don't instruct your employee to do that and she/he uses straight gas, then the weed eater won't work (or is damaged during operation), it's your fault.

Also, if the weed eater recommends wearing eye and ear protection, you should provide that to your employee and insist they wear the protective gear.

Equipment on your farm is a responsibility. Employees should be "checked out" on any equipment they are going to operate to ensure they know what they are doing and can safely handle the machine, whether it is a tractor, ATV or weed eater.