The past six years in our farming area has been a lesson in dealing with excess rain, mud, flooded fields and muddy cattle yards. When I was a kid growing up in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, we could walk across dry lake beds and bale all the slough bottoms every year. We didn’t have front wheel assist tractors.
    In fact, most of our tractors had a narrow front end. Our only tractor with a hydraulic loader was a No. 3 Cockshutt, and we didn’t have a skid loader. How in the world did we cut, rake and square bale those sloughs? We rarely got stuck, and all we had was a 445 Minneapolis Moline pulling a New Holland Hayliner 68 baler with a hand stack rack behind. My dad would bolt a dual tire on the left side of the baler so the heavy side of the baler didn’t sink, and we only did that in the wet years.
    For the last six years those sloughs could be used for submarine testing. We have been stuck on high ground that has drainage tile. If our tractors still had narrow fronts without front assist, they would not even make it across a field even without pulling an implement. We have tried to stay with wheeled tractors, especially those with wide floatation tires, because we need them for packing silage piles. However, as the wet years continue, track tractors look more and more appealing.
    When I did a little research on the history of track tractors, the first ones were called dreadnaughts because it was a series of big wooden feet attached to chains going around some big wheels on a steam engine. They were used in the Crimean war before 1900 to pull heavy artillery across the swamps. A guy named Holt from California bought up every track patent he could find and really revolutionized the track tractor business. During World War I, some troops started calling the Holt track tractor a caterpillar because of the way it could maneuver like the creeping crawling worm. Holt soon adopted the name caterpillar and changed his company to Holt Caterpillar.
    Our first implement with tracks was a mini-excavator we bought about 10 years ago to dig old bedding out of freestalls. Soon that machine became popular on our farm, especially for drainage tile work. It was amazing to drive right out into the swamps to clean out tile outlets. Soon after that I used a neighbors flat track Cat for some fieldwork. I liked it in the field, but thought my brains would shake out on the road. Also, in a muddy spot in the field, it would go in a circle and there was no controlling it. Another time I rented a high rear end 865 Cat to do some tillage, and I really liked that two track tractor except for turning on the ends was jerky.
    This spring, we finally purchased a teleskid track skid loader for destruction and construction jobs. We used it with a grapple bucket to clean up tree limbs after a windstorm hit our local Christian School property, and we could dump right into a side dump trailer. We also used it to clean manure out of a bedded pack heifer shed during a rainy week. We did have to stock pile the manure obviously. The teleskid replaced our old wheeled skid loader we use at our seed, chemical and shop site. A track skid loader would not be good on the constant concrete environment at the dairy.
    As the wet spring wore on into June, the local implement salesman kept bugging us to try a green 620 quad track to replace our 620 wheeled machine. We finally hooked one up to our 60 foot field cultivator, and Vince and I were both impressed. Vince, the 13-year-old, was obviously more impressed than I was because he gets to drive it, while I get to write the check for it. Even 11-year-old Coyer got to make a few easy rounds with it by himself. When I drove it, I was impressed how it floated across marginally dry ground without leaving any foot print behind the field cultivator. We ended up trading for a newer used one, and ordered a silage blade for it, also. We have seen how the larger dairies are using the quad tracks with blades to push the silage up onto the pile, because they can push more volume than a wheel tractor on cement without spinning. Then those same dairies are using dedicated heavy wheel tractors just to go round and round for packing. I really enjoy teaching the boys how to be responsible with equipment and do a good job. They are hard workers and will do bad dirty jobs along with the cool machinery driving. I just wish we could have a little drier summer sometime so I could teach them the joys of a perfectly hand stacked load of slough hay behind a small square baler!
    Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minn. Send him feedback at davevkooi@icloud.com. Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.