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Skid-steer loader: Tried and true meets new routines

Jason Boerger for Progressive Dairyman Published on 11 December 2018
Skid -steer maintenance

A well-maintained skid-steer loader can be one of the most dependable, versatile and highly productive machines in a busy dairy operation.

Although you’ve heard it before, I’ll say it again: You can minimize downtime and significantly extend the life of your skid-steer loader by following the manufacturer’s routine maintenance recommendations.



You know how inconvenient breakdowns can be. There’s rarely time to transport equipment to the dealership for repair, much less schedule a service truck to drive out to your farm. Plus, your herd doesn’t know downtime. They’re on their feeding and milking schedule 24-7-365, so it’s vital to have a working skid-steer loader.

Perform daily basics

Since you or your employees perform most of your skid-steer loader maintenance, it’s important to take time for daily visual inspections of the loader and its components and to complete basic procedures. In fact, daily maintenance is the single- most important aspect for overall longevity of a compact loader.

When done properly, it can prevent many issues and help minimize downtime. Most manufacturers’ operation and maintenance manuals, and some engine compartment decals, provide instruction on daily fluid-level checks such as:

  • Engine oil
  • Hydraulic oil
  • Coolants

Measurable fluid loss may indicate loose hoses, fittings or other potential damage. It’s also important to make sure the fluids and filters are changed at scheduled intervals and are running at proper temperatures. Additionally, it’s important to grease pins and bushings at a manufacturer’s specified intervals to minimize wear on pivot points.

Prepare for the season

Plan to take some special steps in your fluid maintenance plan depending on the time of year. Follow these tips:


Cold weather tips

  • Select engine oil viscosity to match the expected temperature range.

  • Use low-temperature grease for proper lubrication on pivot points.

  • Use fuel rated for colder temperatures. Some areas provide winter fuel blended or refined for the region to improve flow.

  • In addition to fluids, check tire pressure to ensure tires are properly inflated.

Hot weather tips

  • Select engine oil viscosity to match the expected temperature range.

  • Frequently monitor coolant levels.

  • Keep cooling components like the radiator and oil cooler clean or free of debris to maximize their efficiency.

Having the right parts on hand in a moment’s notice is also important to reduce downtime. Many manufacturers offer maintenance kits that include all the necessary air, fuel, oil and hydraulic filters to help make maintenance quick and easy.

Treat attachments equal

A skid-steer loader’s attachments are the tools that deliver the versatility you need to move commodities, build fences, cut brush or push snow. Attachments such as augers, grapples, rotary cutters, snow blades and snowblowers are some of the most popular and hardest-working tools on your farm and deserve the same attention as the machine itself.

Visual checks of attachment components such as hoses, cylinders and guards, auger flighting and teeth, cutting blades and edges can help you see if wear is developing or damage has occurred. Some attachments also require fluid-level checks and lubrication.

Reduce worksite debris

Because dairy operations typically handle a significant amount of commodities such as feed, hay silage and bedding, skid-steer loaders are regularly exposed to airborne debris. Accumulation from moving these materials can impact machine performance and engine life.


If you’re not cleaning the chaff and silage off of radiators and oil cooler screens, it can cause issues ranging from slight engine overheating to more major and costly issues like scored cylinders or cracked heads.

To further reduce problems from this floating debris, some manufacturers offer engine guard kits that can be installed on loaders. These kits can provide extra protection for engine compartments with debris screens for radiators, muffler guards and lift cylinder debris shields.

Additionally, some manufacturers offer reversing engine fans, which can blow off the debris on top of the engine compartment, reducing the immediate need to clean debris off by hand.

Pair advanced fluids to Tier 4 machines

Today’s skid-steer engines burn cleaner, and equipment owners must be more knowledgeable about fuel and oil selection to prevent downtime issues. Interim Tier 4 and Tier 4 engines require ultra-low sulfur diesel that burns cleaner in the new exhaust treatment devices and systems designed to lower engine emissions. Additional filters on storage and transfer tanks will also help ensure clean fluids are used to minimize downtime.

Create good habits

Even if it’s not always convenient to make time for routine skid-steer loader maintenance, it’s worth every minute. You can speed up the process on machines that provide quick access to daily engine checkpoints.

Items like easily visible hydraulic sight gauges and reachable grease zerk locations on critical pivot points make it simpler to perform greasing procedures. Removable screens and tip-up components also simplify oil cooler and radiator cleaning.

If you keep routine maintenance simple and become knowledgeable about industry-leading enhancements, you’ll stay ahead of costly repairs.  end mark

PHOTO: Like brushing your teeth, skid-steer maintenance isn’t a one-and-done event. If regular maintenance isn’t ongoing, it will eventually cost big bucks in breakdowns. Photo courtesy of Bobcat Company.

Jason Boerger is a marketing manager for the Bobcat Company