Column: Self reliance and ranching: the place for the Jack or Jill of all trades

A few weeks back the Applied Sustainable Ranching class had its weekly focus on looking at what a good farming business would do.

A few weeks back the Applied Sustainable Ranching class had its weekly focus on looking at what a good farming business would do to look after machinery.

My recent experience with putting up hay amidst threatening and inclement weather led me to have to use an operators guide for  every piece of machinery.

Fortunately, farm machinery comes with paper or hard copies of manuals but most everything can be found online anyway. I recommend the copy in the shop nearby.

My shop is the last place I want a computer, and the iPad belongs to the head of the household. Needless to say we don’t have satellite coverage for connections except right at the home places on the ranch.

Having said that we will evolve into the digital age, but that might be a generational thing.

We need to get into the habit, as many young people are, of taking pictures when we take things apart.

As the parts manager, Bud, at the local equipment dealer told the class: keep your phone close at hand and take a picture of what you are working on and the serial number make and model.

Then  go online and check out the shop manual for the machine you are working on. That will help get the right part. But I digress.

The university class was hosted by Tim and his main shop fellows, Greg and Jack, at Lake City Central Equipment.

I accompanied the class but the main instructor for that week was Lynn Bonner, one of those ranchers with a stellar reputation for  knowing how to build and fix things.

A lot of thought had to go into trying to demystify, the complicated topic of machinery maintenance  and focus on some  simple “no brainer” lessons.

Going into this session, I had recently reread parts of the manual for a 30 year old baler which we have had for 15 years. I was almost alarmed by the information I had not understood when reading the manual years before.

Keep the manual on hand and refer to it and follow it: simple, stupid.

So when the class arrived at Lake City Central Equipment the primary message was: check your manual and follow the maintenance recommendations, grease gun and oil can in hand.

Even the best of the ranch mechanics are telling us: keep digging into your manuals.

Most of what you need to know has been put there for a reason.

Prevent expensive repairs and keep them to a minimum.

Sometimes it is the easiest of fixes that gives the most satisfying returns for the time invested.

Of course, when you aren’t under the pressure to use the equipment is the best time to roll it into the shop and go over everything.

This one lesson is so basic, but so overlooked, that it bears repeating. Get the manual, read it and do what it says.  If it says grease every eight hours of operation, do after six if that is when you finish a job, rather than after 10 or 12.

Grease and oil when you stop operating because everything is warm and will take the lubrication more easily.

If you are a beginner, check out Maintaining Small-Farm Equipment, by Steve and Ann Larkin Hansen, a short book by Story Publishing, part of the Books for Self Reliance.

Easy read, edifying is my critique of it. By the way, when you are dirty at the end of the day is the best time to grease and oil rather then when you are clean and fresh in the morning.

Now if you think this is all so basic, then tell me why so many of us have yet to learn this lesson.


David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.

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