Farmers and ranchers don’t need to spend a lot of money weatherizing equipment to ensure that it readily fires up in the spring, farmer Albert Roberts says.
Roberts, who also writes the “Ask Albert” column on the Washington Tilth Producers website, said simple steps like moving equipment indoors and applying grease or crankcase oil to mechanical parts can help avoid one of the main winter threats to farm equipment: moisture.
“If you grease everything before putting it away, it will keep moisture out and the equipment will run nice when it’s started up in the spring,” Roberts said.
When equipment operates, he said, oil and grease out are pushed out, leaving the moving parts to run metal-to-metal. If rust is present, pieces can flake off, causing parts to deteriorate much quicker.
To avoid engine damage, Roberts stressed the importance of washing, drying, greasing bearings and oil chains regularly, emphasizing that hay equipment should be cleaned thoroughly because hay remnants are especially prone to attracting moisture.
Covering exhaust openings with a tin can to stall moisture accumulation during wet periods and to prevent mice from nesting in engine compartments is another inexpensive — but effective — way to protect equipment, he said.
Mice are known for destroying insulation and chewing on electrical wires. Exposed wires can cause a short circuit and start fires, Roberts explained. He suggested placing mothballs inside engine compartments, near wires and under floor mats to ward off rodents.
In regions of extreme or prolonged cold, equipment owners should test antifreeze limits with a hydrometer every year in September or October, said Leon Basey, service manager at Washington Tractor in Chehalis, Wash.
“Unless you have a leak, it should be good for one year,” he said.
Basey explained that the meter’s float indicates the lowest temperature antifreeze will protect. If the hydrometer reading is not as low as regional temperatures, the fluid can be drained and more antifreeze with the correct limit can be added to reach the needed protection, he said.
Hydrometers can be purchased at most parts stores for less than $10.
Along with antifreeze, Roberts said before storing equipment hydraulic tanks and fuel tanks should be checked to ensure moisture hasn’t collected inside. The easiest way to do this is to open the drain valve and observe if water comes out, he said. When water is present, drain the tank until the moisture is gone, and then replace oil and fuel as needed.
Fuel stabilizer can also help maintain engine function by preventing fuel evaporation, which, if prolonged, can leave deposits of varnish and cause floats to stick. When this happens, Roberts said, it’s common that a carburetor must be removed and cleaned before equipment can be used in the spring. Running the equipment with stabilizer in the fuel tank before winter is the best bet, he said.
Roberts pointed out that winter preparations must also take place outside the engine compartment. He advised airing up tires to keep them from going flat or blocking them off the ground to keep weight off them as good ways to ensure equipment is field-ready in spring.
“Low air pressure creates a weak spot in the tube or tire that can cause it to fail earlier than it should,” he said.