The Tractor: A Farm's Unsung Hero

A farm can run without a lot of things, but the tractor is the key to a well-run horse operation. By David Wyatt for EquiSearch.
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We all know how bad a day can be when our car or truck breaks down and we can't get to work. Multiply that frustration times ten and you'll know how the barn owner or manager feels when the farm tractor breaks down. A farm can run without a lot of things, but the tractor is the key to a well-run horse operation. It mows the grass, it plows the snow, it pulls out stuck vehicles, and -- above all -- it moves manure! Routine maintenance can help keep it going. Here are a few helpful reminders about tractors.

  • Regularly check fluid levels, including crankcase and hydraulic oils and engine antifreeze/coolant. A tractor will develop serious problems if fluid levels are allowed to run low. Before winter, change the anti-freeze/coolant to prevent damage to the engine block.
  • Change filters at least in spring and fall.
  • Wear and tear on a tractor is measured in running hours, not miles. Change oil and filters accordingly.
  • Keep an eye on tire pressure. A low tire can quickly become damaged and dangerous.
  • Check the condition of belts. A tractor can malfunction if belts are in poor condition or improperly fitted.
  • Protect the tractor from the weather. If you can't store it inside, at least cover it to prevent over-exposure to rain, snow, and dust.
  • Keep a written record of repairs and receipts. Remember, in many cases, tractor expenses are tax-deductable.
  • Set aside a supply of tools and materials specifically for the tractor (Hide them if you have to!). Some important items for this include:
    The tractor's owner's manual.
    A jack, lug wrench, and extra lugs.
    Tire repair materials: Pressurized spray or latex repair compound.
    A portable, refillable air storage tank.
    Starting fluid.
    An extra set of clean spark plugs.
    An extra set of filters.
    An extra fuel bowl gasket.
    Anti-freeze/coolant.
    Silicone spray.
    Lubricant spray.
    Hydraulic oil.
    Crankcase oil.
    Lubricating grease.
    A coil of electrical wire.
    A length of radiator hose.
    Spare lug nuts.
    A set of wrenches and other tools.
  • Always dispose of tractor fluids properly. A small amount of oil can damage soil and water supplies. And, believe it or not, anti-freeze/coolant containing ethylene glycol tastes good to some animals, especially dogs, but it can kill them if they drink it!

Because many of their components are exposed to view, tractors are fairly simple to learn about and maintain. With common sense, a little experience, and willingness to learn, even the novice can function competently with routine tractor maintenance. However, every once in a while a trained mechanic is needed. So, the ultimate tool in the kit is the mechanic's phone number.

A few tips about tractor fuel:

  • Buy fuel from good quality sources. Quality fuel does not need a lot of enhancements or additives.
  • Use fuel containers with proper lids that are intended for containing and transporting fuel.
  • Keep fuel containers clean. Many tractor problems result from contaminants like dirt or water in stored fuel.
  • Use fuel containers for their intended purpose. Never keep diesel fuel in a gasoline can and vice-versa. The wrong fuel will permanently damage a tractor's engine.
  • Keep fuel tanks at least half-full to prevent condensation. If possible, never let a piece of equipment run out of fuel while operating. Diesel-powered equipment is especially problematic when fuel is allowed to run out.
  • Dispense fuel properly, using properly functioning spouts and funnels to prevent spills. Avoid dispensing fuel indoors. Don't dispense to a hot piece of equipment. Let machinery cool before re-filling.
  • Don't store fuel in a building with animals.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher on hand for emergencies.
  • Fuel can deteriorate over time. Drain fuel from equipment that will be stored for long periods of time. Properly dispose of fuel that has been stored for too long.

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