Weigh your options to achieve maximum lift with skid steers
If tractors are the workhorses on a farm, skid steers are the pack mules. They can cart around seed pallets, haul hay and dump manure with admirable agility.
A skid steer is all business, so to get the most out of its hardworking capacity, it’s crucial to pick the right machine for the job and to operate it safely.
To select the best skid steer for your farm, it’s important to understand how the machine has been engineered to lift materials. Skid steers are categorized into one of two lift path types: radial or vertical. Radial-lift machines carry materials in an arc, similar to the movement of the minute hand on a clock. They offer the best reach along a horizontal axis, says Barry Newton, territory sales manager for New Holland.
Vertical-lift skid steers move attachments into a higher vertical position than radial machines, allowing them to dump materials into a truck bed through a parallel lifting mechanism.
"It kind of pushes the whole loader arm forward and up," explains Jim Joy, compact loader marketing development engineer for Caterpillar. The machines can reach over the lip of the bed without hitting the side of the vehicle.
At Bobcat Company, customers can choose from radius (the manufacturer’s term for radial lift path) or vertical lift-path loaders to match the application, says Tanner Schilke, Bobcat district sales manager, northern Illinois.
Arm action. In general, vertical-lift machines have a low center of gravity, providing greater traction on inclines. "It is the most desirable in the industry right now," Newton says. New Holland makes five vertical-lift machines and two radial-lift models.
Radial-lift skid steers can be great candidates for unloading flatbeds, operating snow blowers and running mowers because they extend attachments horizontally. They offer single pivot points—one at the base of the machine and one at the bucket—and provide minimum grease points.
Don’t look at lift-path type as a limiting factor—rather, consider how arm action can safely and efficiently accomplish chores. "They have to feel safe and comfortable when operating the machine," notes John Rau, Gehl product and training specialist. Skid steers of either lift type can perform many of the same jobs.
Because you’re asking the skid steer to routinely perform substantial feats of strength, make sure the machine’s lift-path type and rated operating capacity, also known as its tip load, are synched, Schilke says. That’s because lift type can change tip-load requirements. For example, while Bobcat’s vertical-lift S530 and radius-lift S510 both offer 49 hp, the vertical-lift machine offers 200 lb. of extra rated operating capacity.
It’s also important to consider how much weight you need to lift. If an operator will be hauling hay bales, a lift capacity of 1,500 lb. to 2,000 lb. might be a good fit.
Be realistic about the types of work a skid steer can handle and the required maintenance. Some manufacturers might recommend radial-lift machines for offset scraping, pushing and digging, but that can wear down pivot points, Rau notes. On all brands of skid steers, load arm stop blocks are necessary to manage the energy being transferred into the frame.
Inside the machine, look for plenty of openings or windows that make it easy to see the bucket as it is being dumped. To confirm visibility, ask your dealer to test drive the skid steer on your farm, Rau adds.
You can e-mail Nate Birt at firstname.lastname@example.org.