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Mechanics Corner: Getting equipment ready for storage

Andy Overbay Published on 11 September 2015

As I age, time moves faster and faster. (I think I can get many an “amen” to that.) I also notice that this phenomenon also requires me to:

1. Know my limitations.

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2. Plan accordingly.

These hold especially true when thinking about getting things done around the farm, particularly things that aren’t necessarily required but sure can bite hard if left unattended.

Getting equipment ready to store is really no different than getting it ready to go to work; the only difference is the time frame in which the work is done. Getting equipment prepped for storage boils down to two things: first, maximizing performance when called upon, and second (but not second in importance), safety.

Accident prevention must be a top priority on farms today, especially when operating machinery like farm tractors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 750 farm workers are accidentally killed each year, and more than half of these fatalities are tractor-related.

This was the case on my own farm, when a farm tractor accident claimed the life of my father at age 79. Dad was not a reckless person; he had just simply taken a shortcut (easier in the history of the tractor involved) and never took time to fully repair or replace the shortcut. It happens far too often.

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The first step to getting equipment ready for the shed is a proper cleaning. I use the word “proper” because soap and water may not be the best choice depending on the nature of the cleaning and where the machine needs a “bath.”

Left on the machine, wash water can corrode essential electronics or even cause fires by conducting shorts to unremoved flammable materials. Water left on debris can also exacerbate metal deterioration and rust. You would never store a tractor caked in manure, but is there really any difference in wet hay or soil and manure? These will break down metal surface or freeze bearings over time.

Additionally, the steps and cab area need to be free from mud, dirt, ice, oil or any other combustible object or fluid. Excessive mud, dirt and ice will reduce traction on mounting steps, potentially causing the operator to fall from the tractor. Spilled fuel, oil and grease can cause poor traction in the operator’s station and pose a substantial fire hazard.

Once the machine has been properly cleaned, the next step is to lubricate all points of the equipment and service the oil, coolant and filters as necessary. This is a great time to pull samples of your engine’s oil and hydraulic system for analysis.

Accurate analysis of these fluids can help you predict repairs or replacements before the season of use arrives. It should be noted that dealers often have service specials during these seasonal downtimes, so monitor and take advantage of these savings if applicable.

Even under light loads, acid will build up in engine oil. Changing the oil out is the only way to remove this potentially harmful material from your engine. Some newer coolants do not require change-outs, but if your equipment is older, remember that engine coolant loses some of its effectiveness over time. Flushing the coolant system and replacing filters is recommended here as well.

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Storage time is also a good time to freshen up paint and repair nicks and scratches. Properly maintained and good-looking equipment helps inspire more pride in operators, both owner and operator, and it also makes its way around the neighbors. Dividends for these pieces of machinery may be sizable if you decide to trade or sell.

Water in your fuel is never welcome, so don’t leave any room for it to find its way to your injectors. Top off the fuel tanks of equipment going to storage to prevent condensation adding water to your fuel from inside the tank itself. It is also recommended that batteries in machinery be disconnected prior to long storage events. The batteries do not have to be completely removed – simply disconnect the ground.

Speaking of electrical issues, storage time is a great time to check for frayed, broken or loose wires and replace broken gauges or switches. Also look for any sign of corrosion near connectors or plugs that could cause an implement to fail.

Inspect both powered and pulled implements for worn, broken or bent parts. Replace worn opener disks on drills and planters, and look for wear and tear on belts and chains on harvesting equipment.

If the implement folds or articulates, be sure to coat hydraulic cylinder shafts with lubricant to prevent rust. Just because these rods are chrome-plated does not mean they cannot rust. Coat exposed parts such as disk blades with a high-quality lubricant to prevent rust from limiting the life of that implement.

Finally, don’t forget that on your dairy, not all of the equipment moves. Preparing your handling facilities and chutes for idle times is also important. Animal handling facilities can become rundown and held together with the most available repair material at the time, regardless of its ability to hold up over time.

You don’t have to have too much imagination to visualize that equipment strong enough to hold a rank bull still could just as easily crush a grown man, much less an unfortunate child who is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Once again, taking the time to be thorough is synonymous with taking the time to be safe. As I have stated on these pages in the past, the most important working part of your dairy is you. Take care of you.  PD

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

Andy Overbay
  • Andy Overbay

  • Extension Agent
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension
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