Since their introduction in the 1970s, all-terrain vehicles have become a valuable tool in agriculture.

“Like most pieces of ag machinery, when something happens — say the animals get out — you need it up and going,” Ed Stritzke, manager at Linn-Benton Tractor Co. in Silverton, Ore.

“Probably the most important thing is working with a dealer or repair shop that is in tune with an ATV’s agricultural functions,” he said. “A motorcycle shop in downtown Portland is not going to understand that it is a tool and a real workhorse.”

Once harvest is done and the fields are disked and replanted, ATVs should be winterized alongside other vehicles. Unlike most other farm vehicles, ATVs tend to be used throughout the year, which makes them easier to leave out of the end-of-season lineup for winter services.

“This is when I want to get that machine checked out,” Stritzke said. “We want to get it serviced: Dump that old oil that has accumulated acid and other impurities and get it away from the connecting rod and bearings.”

Any farm machine’s fate also depends on its care in the thick of the season when tires, filters and fluids need constant monitoring.

Once the dust settles, service includes preparing it for the challenge of doing nothing the rest of the year.

“It’s actually harder on equipment to sit idle than to be used,” Stritzke said. “It’s sort of like people. If you sit on the couch a lot you start to go downhill.”

The use of these versatile machines continues to expand across the ag spectrum, but perhaps nowhere as markedly as among Eastern Oregon’s livestock producers, who are starting to use ATVs for activities traditionally done on horseback.

“Typically a lot are still going to use horses,” Stritzke said. “Cows recognize horses as superior and they don’t spook the cattle. Four-wheelers make a different noise that can spook the animals. Another benefit of using horses is you’re sitting up higher and can see farther.”

There is no limit in sight for the ATV’s usefulness, bolstered by a continual stream of new accessories and technologies.

“Their uses and capabilities have exploded over the past 30-35 years,” Stritzke said. “Cab enclosures, winches, mapping out fields with GPS, soil sampling. ... Some can haul 1,500 pounds up to a ton and are being used as tractors. We had a Kubota ATV that was fitted with an orchard sprayer for hazelnut orchards. This unit will literally take the place of a tractor or laborer and has an electronic eye on it that knows when it gets to the tree.

“ATVs are smaller machines we often take for granted even though we rely on them the entire year,” Stritzke said. “It’s kind of like having our own children on the farm and then all of a sudden they’re gone and we have to find other teenagers to replace them.”

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