Farm Equipment for Livestock

September 1, 2023

By Jacki Martinez Perkins, MOFGA’s Organic Dairy and Livestock Specialist

Getting into livestock production can be an uphill battle. Choosing equipment is one of the more anxiety-inducing processes. My parents (a dairy farmer and a sole-practitioner large animal veterinarian) often found themselves in situations where they had little to no help from others, and so instilled in me the value of self-sustaining systems and working smarter, not harder. This meant learning from each season’s struggles and deep ruminations on how to reinvest in their businesses to streamline things. Here are some points I’ve learned. You might not agree.

The kind of tractor you get matters. When dealing with livestock, get the largest tractor you could possibly imagine needing. It must be able to lift the largest animal on the farm. You will have sick and injured animals. Make sure that tractor has a bucket, rear hydraulics and a power take-off shaft. Plan on rolling this into the operating expenses of the farm. If you’re getting cattle, consider purchasing a skid steer before a front loader tractor. I have yet to stop being amazed at what these unassuming little machines can do.

Don’t bother with a brush hog. I’ve only ever seen them be useful in eradicating ground hemlock. They don’t cut grass (they lay it over, and this isn’t adding green manure fertility), and most other brush can be thinned with a diversity of livestock that can then make you money. Invest in a sickle bar or flail mower.

Keep tabs on maintenance. If it’s a moving part, it needs lubrication. If it sounds weird, investigate. Find the source of any leaks, and don’t let the kids leave the keys on. Wash down machinery regularly. Equipment has started on fire due to hay chaff buildup. Keeping it clean and maintained will also make it easier to upgrade if you need to start small.

Keep your equipment under cover. Damage from the elements adds up, and even something as simple as a shade cover can keep unwanted damage from occurring. Another handy trick to keeping rodents out of engines and away from wires is to toss some mothballs under the seats and hood of anything that might sit idle for more than a week at a time. The wiring harnesses on more modern equipment are being made out of vegetable starch, which is rather enticing to rodents.

Equipment breaks. Learn to cut and weld. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but it does have to work. Not only will you save time and money, but people will marvel at your competency. Remember, if it’s broken, there’s very little harm in digging in and trying to fix it. Take photos as you take it apart, and stay organized.

Keep a strategic “junk” pile. Having scraps to weld on, or pipes to add to the end of a wrench to increase leverage can mean the difference between success and failure. Keep it organized so you (and everyone else) can find things. No one relishes digging through your hoard after you’re gone, and unkempt piles harbor rats.

Speaking of “failure,” the only true definition of this word is not trying. Sit down and have a cry, or find a quiet place to let out your frustrations, then get back at it. On the flip side, know when you’ve reached your competency limit. It’s ok to call professionals with the necessary tools.

Most of all, ask around. It’s always worth the time to visit and talk with other farmers. Everyone has something to teach (and maybe sell), and visiting each other keeps us all connected in our ever-shrinking agricultural community. Build bridges with each other.

This article was originally published in the fall 2023 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.

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