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Worth the Work: How to Properly Maintain Management Equipment

Protect your investment in valuable food plotting equipment by taking time for maintenance, service and repair.

Worth the Work: How to Properly Maintain Management Equipment
Farming equipment is expensive, and hard field-use can lead to added repairs and service costs. Curtail the bulk of these financial strains by taking simple steps to keep your equipment clean and functional. (Photo by Haynes Shelton)

After years of managing my land for wildlife and visiting a lot of hunting properties every season, I have noticed a common theme: lack of equipment service and maintenance. For an alarming number of habitat managers, the last thing that gets attention in the attempt to grow that monster buck is the equipment.

I’ve seen all kinds of equipment in every condition possible, and I’ve decided to take this opportunity to give some tips and lessons I have learned the hard way about keeping this equipment in working order for the long haul!

Equipment Service & Maintenance

I bought my first piece of equipment in 1972, so that gives away my age a little. That allowed me lots of years to make mistakes, so hopefully that gives me a little credibility. Since then, I have bought, sold, torn up and traded more equipment than I care to remember.

What I have learned over the years is my time has become as important as money. We can always make money, but time is irreplaceable. When it’s time to put in food plots, I want to spend my days with sun shining on my face and habitat work getting done — not working on equipment. Inevitably, there will be breakdowns and unexpected issues. But trust me, there is a way to limit them. Just pay attention to an old guy who learned the hard way.

sitton-maintain-equipment-haynes
Caring for your habitat tools will not only extend their working life but protect their used re-sale value. (Photos by Haynes Shelton)

I have a very hard and fast rule for my equipment and the people who operate it. Equipment is an investment, and equipment needs to be taken care of as the priority. I don’t care if it’s a $150,000 tractor, an ATV or a homemade drag; unless it has been retired to the junk pile, it needs to be taken care of.

Here is a quick example of what I have learned about equipment using a tractor as reference: Let’s say I purchase a 75hp tractor “new” with a cab for $70,000. We plan on using that tractor for 10 years and running up between 600 and 700 hours on the engine per year. Keep in mind this is primarily used for habitat work, so that’s not a ton of hours per season. Based on the dozens of tractor and equipment purchases and trades I’ve made, after 10 years of use I would expect this tractor to hold a “trade in value” of $60,000 to $62,000. If you can own a tractor for $800 to $1,000 per year, not counting breakdowns, why wouldn’t you? I mean, that’s an unbeatable deal, right?

Before the dealers and farmers start doing math and saying this is impossible, let me assure you I have held this model and expectation for a few decades now. But it’s not possible unless you take GREAT care of your equipment. At the end of 10 years, the equipment should look like new with exception of the hour meter and some seat wear. Here are some bullet points on how to make that possible.

Tips to Keep Gear Like New

* Service the equipment and keep good records. Use quality oils and fluids. Don’t over run oil changes. When it’s due, turn off the key and do it!

* Any time two pieces of metal touch and move, they are causing wear. I know grease is expensive, but a pound of grease is cheaper than a pound of steel. If it has a grease fitting, there is a reason. If the fitting doesn’t take grease, change it. Follow or exceed the maintenance schedule!

* Change your air filter often, more often than even required. Most of us get rushed and blow out filters with air and think we have serviced it. Dirt and sand will destroy air filters over time, so blowing them out will buy you some time, but keep them in stock and change when needed.

* Keep a logbook. Have a service record on each tractor that tracks not only planting data, but also issues that need attention with your equipment. Make notes of head/taillight changes, filter and oil changes, and all service performed. An associate of ours said a short pencil is always better than a long memory!

sitton-maintain-equipment-barn
Equipment like tractors and implements last much longer when stored in covered, dry locations. Cleaning equipment after use and prior to storage will lessen wear on parts and exposure to the elements. (Photos by Wayne Sitton)

* Keep it clean. I carry a little whisk broom in every tractor and about once a week we take 5 minutes to throw away all the old lunch bags, water bottles and sweep it out. At the end of every farming season, we throw on a quick wax job to get rid of the sun fade to keep the paint bright. After a repair is made, remove any oil or fuel as it will not only collect dust but can hide another problem you wouldn’t notice if it were clean. Oil on an engine block or pulled into a radiator will cause an engine to run hot, so again, keep them clean.

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* If it breaks, fix it. I have done it a thousand times; something breaks, and I’ve thrown a patch on a problem and said I’d fix it later. A patch-job is just a temporary fix until you’re finished planting or repair parts come in. Running a patch-repair is a mistake in the long term. A small leak here, a chipped windshield there or a dented fender will eventually make a great running tractor look like it needs a ride to the junk yard.

* Inspect before buying used. A few tell-tale signs I look for when I purchase used equipment are obvious wear locations. Some are more telling than others, such as oblong draw pin holes or worn lift arm bushings. That tells me the previous owner was not using the correct sizes of pins, and the constant “hammer” of implements could have caused deeper damage. Always utilize the right pins and bushings, and try to size your implements to HP and PTO speeds.

* Change your anti-freeze; don’t just add to it. A good radiator flush when needed will save you money by letting your engine run cooler. Keeping the radiator clean on the outside is very important, as well. Farming allows dust, dirt, grass and debris to collect in the veins; and while it may not get hot, it can cause deterioration and eventual leakage.

* Keep an eye on your hydraulic hoses. Regardless if it’s a tractor or an implement, service your hoses and keep them tied up and in good shape. If one is looking worn or frayed, replace it at the first opportunity. It’s much cheaper to replace them now and then, than to spend a fortune replacing them all.

Final Thoughts

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You’ll be amazed how many years of life you can get out of machinery when it’s well taken care of. Don’t miss oil and antifreeze changes or air filter swaps; and be sure to service your hydraulic lines regularly. Remove oily residues from the engine block and clean dust and debris after use. (Photo by Wayne Sitton)

In closing, I realize that most folks will think I’m over the top when it comes to caring for my equipment. Some will say they’d never take the time to do all that. The truth is, I am giving you advice because I have done it the other way myself. I’ve lived the “patch it and get along” life and I’ve been the “we can fix it next year” guy.

But I realized next year never comes. Equipment only breaks when you’re using it and not when it’s sitting idly in the barn. I don’t know about you, but when I need it to work, the last thing I want is to break down, miss the next rain and wait on parts.

I found the secret to having a solid trade-in is to take care of issues as they happen. If the equipment looks good after 10 years, it probably is. And anyone looking for good used gear will recognize that fact. I promise this advice will make you money and cutting corners will cost you money; take it from a guy who has done it both ways!




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