Amount of money invested in equipment and tools by a beef cattle producer is usually significant; however, it is common to dedicate very little time for keeping these items in good working condition.
Equipment has memorable costs, such as $6,000 to $20,000 for a stock trailer depending upon its size. A pickup truck with all the “bells and whistles” can cost approximately $70,000. Prices of 35- to 75-horsepower tractors range from $25,000 to $50,000.
Scheduling equipment maintenance not only protects the large capital investment; it can also reduce downtime and improve operator safety.
Maintenance of hand tools is one of the most easily overlooked tasks. How many hammers are rusted from being left in the rain? Is dirt cleaned from shovels and posthole diggers after use? How many adjustable wrenches are now non-adjustable due to lack of cleaning and oiling?
To determine the cost of failure to care for hand tools, take an inventory and estimate the replacement cost for each item. A claw hammer will cost $13 to $50, and a 10-inch wrench will add $10 to $15 to the expense column. Replacing neglected tools can take a real bite out of the budget.
First, let’s look at small equipment such as lawn mowers, chainsaws and power washers. A good time to schedule lawn mower maintenance is in the fall after the last cutting and in the spring before the first cutting. Depending upon amount of use, routine maintenance is probably appropriate during the mowing season as well.
Kara Pennington of Coufal-Prater Equipment says, “During fall maintenance, change the oil if the equipment has a four-cycle engine. Empty the fuel tank or add stabilizer. Unused fuel left in the tank over winter can affect the carburetor and fuel pump, often making the engine impossible to start next spring.
Clean air filters on equipment and replace if necessary. Remove dead grass and dirt from mowers to help prevent rust. Fall is a good time to sharpen mower blades if they have become dull.
“If a battery powers the starter system, re-charge it or remove and store separately,” Pennington continues. “Remove and clean the spark plug or purchase a new one, if necessary. Store all equipment in a dry place. If covered, remember plastic wrap can trap moisture."
"When winterizing equipment, also check belts, clean air intakes, tighten bolts and lubricate pivot points to prevent rust. In the spring, check fluid levels and add fuel. Start the engine and let it idle for a few minutes to redistribute the oil before use.”
Gasoline engines in farm tractors and other self-propelled equipment should be maintained in good condition as well. Preventive maintenance and scheduled tune-ups are recommended for efficient fuel consumption and extended life. Follow recommendations in operators’ manuals for maximum performance.
Oil, fuel and air filters should be changed regularly according to manufacturers’ recommendations. Ensure that carburetors and other fuel-related components function properly.
“Condensation can occur as the weather changes from cool to warm and can cause water to enter empty tanks,” says Keith Dvorak of AGCO. “Top off both the fuel and hydraulic oil tanks to eliminate moisture and costly damage.
“One of the most effective ways to protect equipment is to make sure it is lubricated well,” recommends Dvorak. “Refer to the operator instruction book and lubricate as indicated. Grease unpainted metal parts, such as hydraulic cylinder rods, to protect them from the elements. Be sure to fix any damage that occurred during the year."
"This will ensure broken parts don’t worsen or rust during the winter and will allow immediate access to equipment when it is needed again.”
Maintenance requirements for diesel engines vary somewhat from those applicable to gasoline-powered equipment. “Dirty fuel injectors can cause inefficient fuel combustion and some loss of power,” says Dennis Buffington, P.E., Penn State Extension. “Clean injectors if black smoke is coming from the exhaust.
Use a fuel injector additive on a periodic basis for minor cleaning. Black exhaust can also be caused by a dirty air filter. Check the airflow indicator found on most air cleaners to see if there is a problem.
“Keep the fuel system clean and replace fuel filters as often as necessary,” Buffington suggests. “Fuel filters on diesel engines are more critical than those on gasoline engines because dirt or other small particles can ruin the fuel injector systems. Using the proper viscosity of motor oil is also important."
"Oils that are too thick (high viscosity) decrease power and engine lubrication but increase fuel consumption. Oils that are too thin (low viscosity) do not provide the wear protection needed in the engine and drivetrain.”
Regardless of the type of engine, check tire air pressure on a weekly basis, especially during periods of heavy use. “Don’t wait until tires look low or flat. Also replace drive tires that have excessive wear,” recommends Buffington. “Worn tires cause increases in fuel consumption because of increased wheel slippage resulting from poor traction.”
Hand tools often accumulate quickly, but they disappear even faster. One of the best ways to reduce hand tool expense is to have a designated place for each item and discipline yourself, family and employees to always return tools to their rightful place immediately after use.
Rightful places are a toolbox on a pickup or tractor, in the farm shop or some other suitable place. The most important criterion is to store tools in a dry place because rust is their number one enemy.
Hang tools such as shovels, hoes and rakes to avoid moisture that creeps up from concrete floors. Store power tools in their original cases for better protection. Silica gel packs found in some packaged shipments can be put in drawers or tool boxes to help control rust. Rust inhibitors and anti-rust liners for drawers and shelves are also available.
Cleaning tools after each job is also important for longevity and is another practice requiring a lot of discipline. Most often, they can be cleaned by wiping with a clean rag. The more dirty ones may require soap and water for cleaning. Dry them thoroughly after washing and apply a thin coat of WD-40. Wipe wooden handles with a small amount of linseed oil.
Power tools require a different technique of cleaning. First, make sure the tool is unplugged and then remove the dust. If an air compressor is available, use it for the task. Lubricate any moving parts with machine oil or what is recommended in the user manual.
Boxes, belts and bags used to transport tools need care also. Clean toolboxes periodically and discard worn machinery parts, bent staples and stripped bolts that you’ll never use. Clean leather with a good conditioner, while soap and water will work for metal, cloth and plastic materials.
Inspect tools for damage and wear after every job. “If a wooden handle is damaged, it is prone to breaking during use, which can cause injury to you or others,” says Walter Glenn of DIY. “When a handle is badly splintered, sand it against the grain first and then sand with the grain until it is smooth. Finish with a coating of linseed oil. However, if the handle is cracked or splintered beyond sanding, replace it.”
Mushroomed heads on tools, like chisels and wedges, can reduce effectiveness and cause injury as well. A mushroomed head has become malformed and is mushroom-shaped.
This condition occurs from frequent use of a tool without sharpening the striking edge. If you use a tool in this condition, the head can shatter on impact. Sharpen the tool when it becomes dull – or, at the very least, every six months.
Power tools that are damaged or functioning improperly are very dangerous to use. Glenn cautions, “If a power tool has anything more than a simple hairline crack on the housing, don’t use it. Unless you have the expertise to repair the tool, get it fixed by a professional. If your tool needs a couple of tries to get going or a little ‘push’ to get the blade spinning, don’t use it."
"Take time to clean and lubricate it, and if that doesn’t solve the problem, get it repaired. Obviously, frayed insulation or exposed wires are electrical hazards. While electrical tape might take care of a small problem temporarily, it’s best to have the tool repaired before using it.”
With decreasing cattle prices, it is important to reduce expenses wherever possible. Improved equipment and tool maintenance offers one opportunity.
ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Kristen Phillips.
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>Robert Fears
- Freelance Writer
- Georgetown, Texas
- Email Robert Fearsiwriteag@gmail.com