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Equipment Hub: Looking for trouble

Andy Overbay for Progressive Dairy Published on 24 February 2020

Looking for trouble can be a bad thing. Actually, it can be a terrible thing if you are out looking for trouble and actually find it.

That said, looking for trouble that may be coming down the road can save you a lot of headaches and heartaches when it comes to vehicles and equipment.

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Looking for trouble in your equipment line is more in line with predicting future trouble spots. There are always going to be routine repairs and maintenance involved in machinery, so calling on your own experiences can be a great place to begin to look for trouble.

One place I always check out when I purchase a new truck or tractor is the oil filter and oil fill locations. The easier it is to locate, remove and replace a filter, the more likely it is you will make time to do it. Therefore, one of the first places I look in sizing up a new vehicle is under the hood. I locate the filter and drain plug, and what I really want to find is their proximity to one another. Ideally, I like to see the filter and drain plug so close I can catch the oil without having to relocate the catch pan.

Also, related to oil, while I am under the hood I locate the oil dipstick. Working on my daughter’s SUV taught me to do this. I was shocked to learn that her vehicle’s motor has no dipstick. What the heck? How is anyone supposed to check the oil level in the thing?

“Oh … the computer will tell you when to add oil.” I like technology, but any gadget can and will fail eventually. I prefer to trust my eyes when checking oil. It was only an 8-horsepower lawnmower motor – but once upon a time, I overfilled a motor with oil, and there was no fairy-tale ending. It blew the seal and threw the connecting rod through the block. I was only 8, maybe 9, but nearly 50 years later I remember that lesson very well. That was not a good day.

Just a side note before we leave the topic: Owners’ manuals will give you an oil capacity with and without a filter change. Before you put the last quart in, check the level with the dipstick. Low oil levels are a lot easier to deal with than overfilled crankcases.

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I also look at the required oil and filters a new purchase requires. While there have been as many technological advances in lubricants and filter as there have been in the equipment itself, finding new purchases that use the same oil specifications and familiar filters can really help you cave money and manage inventories.

I like to stock up on both lubricants and filters, so when I have a moment to service a piece of equipment, I don’t have to go any farther than the parts shelves to get whatever I need. It is also true that having similar needs helps when you trade; you aren’t stuck with a large quantity of filters and lubricants you cannot use.

Next, I look for grease fittings anywhere I feel it makes sense for them to be. It short, if it is exposed to the elements and turns, twists or rubs, I prefer to see a grease fitting. Steering linkages, bearings exposed to high acid or moisture conditions (silage boxes and manure spreaders) can be sealed, but I would rather spend time adding a few shots of grease as opposed to pulling a shaft and cutting a failed bearing race out of it.

An element of maintenance I pay more and more attention to is the popularity of the models I am evaluating. While it doesn’t mean it is the best choice among available brands, I do not want to be the only person within 500 miles that owns a piece of equipment. Owning a “rare beast” isn’t a plus when the beast turns on you and lies down on the job. If you are the only person who has one, you can also be sure no one close to you is going to have the parts you need to put it back up on its feet.

That comes from experience as well. We owned a pull-type forage harvester, and it was a good one. Tough, easy to pull and high-capacity … but it was the only one of that model within 400 miles. When it got to be over 20 years old, and the company that made it had been out of business for seven years, getting parts was a 10- to 14-day ordeal. Lost forage quality paid for its replacement – and you can bet we chose a popular brand and model from a dealer with a strong parts department to replace it.

Finally, and related to the previous point, an element of equipment maintenance that needs to be evaluated is: “Can I do without this or work around it if it goes down?” This is especially important when you are evaluating new feeding equipment. Automated feeding equipment can save tons of time but, again, any mechanical component can and will fail sooner or later. While it is down and under repair or replacement, is it possible to get the herd fed?

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If you feel it will not be possible to do essential tasks without a piece of equipment, you need to plan on having a backup standing by (which can be cost-prohibitive) or you need to be prepared to walk away from that system and make another selection.

Experience is a teacher, but certainly not the best teacher. You probably know that a rattlesnake is dangerous, but you don’t learn that by letting it bite you. The easiest mistakes to “fix” are the ones you avoid altogether. end mark

Andy Overbay holds a Ph.D. in ag education and has more than 40 years of hands-on dairy and farming experience.

Andy Overbay
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