By Dr. Steve Higgins
When I was in school, I remember hearing a story. It was a long time ago and I can’t remember if it was true or not, but I’d like to think that it was. There was this student, in the College of Ag, that was informed that he did not have to attend class on Labor Day because it was a holiday. When he was growing up on the farm, his dad was adamant that Labor Day was the time to work as hard as possible fixing things; painting, cleaning, hauling away trash, and straighten up everything on the farm. The young man was surprised to learn that his friends and their families were going to spend their Labor Day going to the lake and cookouts one last time before summer ended. The student commented that when he got home, he was going to have a conversation with dad.
The point that I want to make about this story is that we should set aside time to maintain our properties. I realize we are constantly fixing things to keep working, such as equipment, fences, and gates. It’s what some would call “putting out fires”. However, I’m talking about a different strategy. If we don’t replace a few nails on a roof panel, it could break loose and take several more with it. Neglecting a rotten support post could undermine the structural integrity of a building. The difference between the two scenarios is that the first approach is to operate something until it breaks, then repair it, while the second approach is to reduce the risk of equipment, machines, and buildings from failing through preventive maintenance. Benjamin Franklin is known for saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Nevertheless, we never seem to have time or make time to conduct inspections of our properties. To that end, we need to schedule time to do preventive maintenance.
If a maintenance schedule is not adequately planned, the cost of maintenance becomes abnormally high. Only a systematic approach to maintenance can reduce this cost. Preventive maintenance or correction of defects not only decreases repair costs, but it also promotes safe operations while maintaining the function and capacity of machinery, equipment, and structures. Emphasis should be placed on the following areas: building construction and maintenance, mechanical equipment maintenance, electrical equipment maintenance, farm safety, fire and theft protection, and yard and ground maintenance.
Let me give you three examples of maintenance.
The photo below is a wire pile that was located on the Eden Shale Farm, this wire pile wasn’t contributing to the operation. In fact it was taking up valuable space. As farmers, you always want more acreage for new projects, improvements, or expansion. We need to take a look around to see what areas of our farms we can clean up to allow for usage of those acres towards production of the farm. When we applied this concept to Eden Shale and removed this pile of wire and sold it for scrap, the proceeds ($3,600) were then applied to the subsequent structure placed at the site, which ended up being the large hay feeder and allowed for a new winter feeding site for heavy bred cows at Eden Shale.
Sometimes maintenance can be combined with alterations. The Bull Barn, on the Eden Shale Farm, has deteriorated support posts, roof nails that have worked their way out, rusted out and obsolete bunk feeders and waterers, dirt flooring, inadequate ventilation, and zero manure storage. Some of this is a result of deferred maintenance, economics, and planning. Some of it is due to design flaws because we didn’t know as much about flooring and ventilation in the 60’s when the barn was built as we do now. Instead of conducting repairs to outdated designs, we are modifying features to coincide with new knowledge and management objectives. Modifications are currently being conducted to facilitate and improve manure removal, forage and concentrate feeding, watering, and ventilation. Refurbishing will replace rotten posts, deteriorated panels, and permanently damaged flooring with multiple designs and modern labor saving practices, which can then be demonstrated for producers. In this example, repairs are combined with alterations as one coordinated project to create a more functional facility.
Lastly, no design is perfect. The Eden Shale Farm has numerous demonstration projects that have been added since 2013. In addition, we are constantly adding new demonstrations, while simultaneously updating previous projects by improving them with automation, tweaking, and fixing design flaws. For example, float switches have been installed to turn water pumps on and off automatically. Another is adding additional water storage to match herd numbers and grazing requirements. Why are we doing this? Because we have learned from mistakes, found better ways of doing things, and are motivated to create a more efficient processes. We can all agree that there is plenty of work to do. Automation means a worker can be replaced with machines, meaning we do not have to worry about controlling certain things, which enables us to focus our attention on other things.
It turns out that Labor Day is the celebration of the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the development, growth, endurance, strength, security, prosperity, productivity, laws, sustainability, persistence, structure, and well-being of the country. (Yes, I had to look it up). It is celebrated by a long weekend. You may not want to give up your Labor Day, but I can’t think of a better occasion. Your hay is already up, fields have been mowed, and crops are still growing or starting to senesce. It might be the most appropriate time to work as hard as possible fixing things, painting, cleaning, hauling away trash, and straightening up everything on the farm to make it more presentable, productive, and prosperous. Maybe dad was on to something.