I asked producers through social media where skid steers fit on Canadian farms and it quickly became apparent that many farmers are very fond of the little loaders.
“Chop off your right arm and that’s what life would be like without a skid steer,” said Brain Barnett, who farms near Moose Jaw, Sask.
Matching equipment to operational needs is a tricky but crucial task on every farm, and skid steer versatility enables it to increasingly make the lineup.
For Cameron and Kaitlin Nykoliation of NYK Cattle Company, their skid steer makes up their entire equipment line up.
The couple has a breeding stock operation near Douglas, Man., with 60 pairs of purebred cattle, and their Case 1840 skid steer handles all of the farm’s machine tasks.
Cameron Nykoliation said it’s one of the most diverse machines ever built, and it makes short work of feeding and bedding his cattle.
“With feedlots you’re constantly hauling in fill and levelling and doing that kind of stuff. It pushes snow throughout the winter months. We clean our own corrals, we don’t have to hire someone into do that,” he said
They rent a tractor and spreader from a neighbour when it’s time to clean pens, and the couple buy hay for their livestock.
He said a skid steer meets his needs better than a tractor.
“It can get in and out of anywhere and you can do so much with it, but the cost is so much less than a tractor these days. A decent tractor that you can do chores with and feed bales, you’re looking at close to $100,000. You can buy a very good skid steer for half that or less,” Nykoliation said.
Having only one machine capable of handling all the farm’s tasks reduces the farm’s overhead.
“When you’re doing your expense analysis and balance sheet for your farm, the costs go up the more pieces of machine are needed to feed your cows. The least amount of machinery you can own the better,” Nykoliation said.
A bonus of a skid steer compact size is it’s easy to store.
“It’s in the edge of the barn in the corner, it doesn’t take up much room at all, and it’s usually nice and warm in the winter when the cows are in. She fires up and is good to go,” Nykoliation said.
Steve VanderLoos has a dairy operation near Creston, B.C., that milks 150 cows, and has another 650 that are either younger stock or beef cattle.
His John Deere 320 skid steer is an essential component.
“This machine we bought new two and a half years ago and it’s already got just over 4,000 hours. It’s probably working four or five hours a day, seven days a week,” VanderLoos said.
He uses the skid steer for pen cleaning and to feed heifers in areas that are difficult to access.
“Because of freezing weather, we don’t have alley scrapers, so we’re scraping the barn two or three times per day with the skid steer. There is a sawdust blower attachment, and a sand thrower attachment for in the milk cow barn,” VanderLoos said.
He also uses a grapple bucket, smooth bucket, pallet forks, hayfork, and an attachment he built that enables him to lift a downed cow in areas with a low ceiling.
His skid steer is no longer used to load feed because he’s feeding more animals so he uses a wheel loader instead.
“If I were to build a brand new dairy facility with all new barns and everything else, I probably would be happy to not have a skid steer. Because I would rather do stuff with a pay loader, it’s taller, the ride is smoother. But as soon as you’ve got smaller pens, or low ceiling barns, skid steers provide return on investment.”
He said the ROI comes from reducing the farm’s labour needs, especially from bringing sawdust into pens, and then cleaning the pens out.
Skid steer’s usefulness on a livestock operation is clear, however other farms also benefit from the machine’s versatility.
Shawn Jacula said his Bobcat S650 is a valuable part of his grain and oilseed operation.
It was one of the first things he bought when he became involved with the farm’s management.
“It’s one of those purchases that you look back and you wonder how you did it without it,” Jacula said.
“Every year I seem to buy a new attachment for it. One that’s extremely handy is I can put a receiver hitch in it for moving trailers around the yard, or parking augers and headers for winter. The maneuverability of it is unmatched to a vehicle or a tractor.”
He said the primary use of the skid steer on his farm is to move input containers with the pallet forks in spring.
“I’m able to off-load chemical from the delivery truck. These are large, 450-litre totes for the most part, or pallets full of boxes, and then also the same with the seed. The canola seed comes in totes, mini-tote bags, so I’m able to pick those up on pallets as well,” Jacula said.
He also uses the skid steer to load canola seed in his drill.
“I’m able to just lift the bag and unload what would be handling 20 small bags,” Jacula said.
He said his skid steer has enabled the farm to save significantly on labour costs, because it enables him to do jobs that used to take two people.