From the Zweber Farm

The beauty of redundancy

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The beauty of redundancy lies well in line with how I prefer to labor. Given the choice, that means I labor as little and as leisurely as possible to achieve my goal. To be able to carry on and say, “I’ll take care of that tomorrow,” when something goes bad with an essential piece of equipment after all the part stores are closed for the day is golden. While it’s hard to justify having two of everything, it sure pays to have doubles of things that can’t break down without bringing the dairy to a halt. For us, one of those pieces of equipment that has to be functional is the skid loader.

We have come to rely on skid loaders so much at our farm for manure handling, feeding cows and snow removal (on the years it’s not 50 degrees with green grass in January). If we don’t have at least one functional skid loader, we can’t do many of the chores. I suppose I could grab a fork and a wheelbarrow and get scooping, but that doesn’t really appeal to my working-little-and-leisurely philosophy nor any version of reality. Moving 10,000 pounds of haylage a couple hundred yards and 1,800-pound bales seems a bit difficult to do by hand; although, with a large, properly motivated crew of guys, it could be done in a couple hours, and there would still be time for beers and a midday nap. We don’t happen to have a crew like that just hanging around ready to do so. Thankfully, we do have a second skid loader to fill in for what we lack in a mob of people with pitchforks at the ready.

A couple weeks ago our Bobcat S650 couldn’t find its joystick to control the driving part of operation. It caused kind of an issue, because at that moment, it was parked running with the arms in the air while I cut the strings off a large square bale of alfalfa to dump in the feeder wagons for evening feeding.

When I got back in the skid loader, it just beeped at me and claimed it couldn’t locate the joystick I was holding in my left hand. I shut it off and turned it on again as you do with all electronic things that are being obstinate, but it still insisted it couldn’t locate the left joystick. I turned it on and off a few more times to no avail. I unplugged and plugged in all available connectors. No good. I got frustrated and tried the last thing you should always try before giving up, which is hit it hard and see if that fixes it. Sometimes that works. Just yesterday, the bulk tank control box was making a humming noise. I bumped it, and the noise went away. It didn’t fix the joystick, unfortunately, so Dad grabbed a tractor. We drug it off the yard out of the cows’ way.

Apparently, joysticks do not commonly fail and are accordingly expensive and take a week to get without paying an absurd price to ship it in two days. I got the new joystick and installed it only to have the skid loader complain about three more electronic related issues, which I doubted existed so I loaded it on the trailer and dropped it off at the dealer to figure out why it was being so whiny. At least I could drive it on the trailer with the new joystick, because short of hiring a flatbed with a winch to haul it, I have never figured out how to move a disabled skid loader other than dragging it. They found a bad wiring connection and fixed a few other things I’d been putting off because I didn’t feel like folding myself into a pretzel under the cab until absolutely necessary.

I hope you’re enjoying the April weather we are having in February. Until next time, keep living the dream. May all your mechanical problems be solved simply by a well-placed tap.

Tim Zweber farms with his wife, Emily, their three children and his parents, Jon and Lisa, near Elko, Minnesota.

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