Ryan Roberts, a ranch hand at 7P Ranch near Winona, Texas, put his cutting torch flame to the cracked and bent pipe-pocket hinge on a gate leading to separating pens.
A bull didn’t want to be loaded on an outgoing trailer in late-summer and the damaged gate was the result, said ranch manager Tom Barker. Sometimes repairs have to wait until the off-season.
After Roberts heated the hinge to a glowing orange, Chase Clifford hammered away at the hot metal to straighten the tear. Roberts followed with a few spot welds and more hammering before he and Roberts placed the mended gate back on its posts.
Barker said there are always fences to be tightened or repaired and that winter months provide time to concentrate on general ranch maintenance.
“It’s easy to keep busy,” he said. “Even in the off-season there’s a fence to fix or clear. There’s always something.”
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent Chad Gulley, Smith County, said the off-season is the perfect time to catch up on maintenance and repairs that might have been put off as producers scrambled to keep up with tasks at hand.
Gulley said equipment should also be winterized before hard freezing temperatures arrive. Equipment, such as sprayers, that might have moisture remaining should be checked and protected from freeze damage. Coolants in equipment should also be checked.
Blades on bush-hogs and mowers can be sharpened or replaced, he said.
“Some things have to be put off during the season when you’re trying to keep up with the work,” he said. “You’re just keeping equipment running to keep up with cutting and baling. Winter months give you some time to make those repairs and do those things you’ve put off.”
As with Barker, winter months are also a good time to mend and clear fences, he said. It’s cooler, there are no snakes or bugs, like mosquitoes and wasps, to contend with, and winter weather oftentimes brings wet conditions that are ideal for burning debris.
“It’s good to clear fence rows and fix places where limbs have fallen across them,” he said.
Winter months also allow row-crop producers in other regions of the state time to catch up, said Jourdan Bell, AgriLife Extension agronomist in Amarillo.
“Winter is an ideal time to make equipment repairs, specifically planters as planting season will begin in four to five months,” she said. “In addition to repairing equipment, a large percentage of northern High Plains row-crop farmers also have cattle on wheat, or they lease out their wheat for winter pasture. Consequently, they also have fences to maintain and cattle to look after through the winter.”
Robert Brooks, owner of Rose Country Tractor and Equipment in Tyler, said January, February and March are the best time to drop off equipment for servicing because most producers procrastinate.
“Most people wait until the spring, a few weeks before they need to be in the field,” he said. “We try to reach out to repeat customers and have them come in early because we are so busy around that time, but a lot of folks don’t want to spend the money until they have to.”
Brooks said balers and disk-mowers are high-maintenance equipment. Tractors are typically low-maintenance, needing only oil and oil filter changes and greasing.
Most maintenance can be and is done by producers, Brooks said. But some things, especially on newer equipment, require professionals.
One thing every producer should protect against year-round but especially during winter down time is mice, Brooks said. Cleaning out hay and keeping rat poison scattered in equipment with electric wiring is a good idea.
“At least in East Texas we have so many mice, and you’ll have them nesting and chewing on wires,” he said. “We probably have more trouble with that than anything. Sometimes it’s not what you expect when you try to crank up your equipment when it’s time to get to work.”