The Skid-Steer Loader: A Utility Machine Fit for the Farm
These compact machines known as the skid-steer loader are good for more than moving dirt.
The skid-steer loader (often called skid loader) is really the ultimate heavy-duty compact loader.
courtesy John Deere
You’ve seen them on job sites and landscaping projects, there’s at least one on the job down at the local elevator, and your hay supplier uses one to load big round bales on your trailer. They come in a number of varieties – and you’ve been dying to find a reason to bring one to your place. I’m not talking about a forklift attachment for your compact tractor; I’m talking about those delightfully maneuverable, super-compact skid-steer loaders that seem to pop up just about everywhere.
The skid-steer loader (often called a skid loader) is really the ultimate heavy-duty compact loader. Although the concept was born on a farm – the famed Bobcat brand traces its roots to a three-wheeled, lever-steered, miniloader designed to clean out turkey barns – the modern skid loader has spent most of its life as a construction, landscaping and utility machine. Sure, large-scale dairy operations and cattle feeding setups have been using skid loaders for years, but until just a few years ago, the skid loader hadn’t made significant inroads into small-scale agricultural operations. We can thank the landscaping industry and its need for so many property maintenance attachments for leading the skid loader to acreage owners and small-farm operations.
Skidding through the years
The skid-steer loader was born in 1960 as the M-400, which was built by Melroe Co. in Gwinner, North Dakota. The M-400 was an improvement over the original turkey-barn-cleaning three-wheeled loader because it had more traction and stability with even better maneuverability. The machine was steered – crawler like – by clutching the left and right side drives independently of each other, which meant that it could spin in its own length. The M-400 evolved into the M-440, which in 1962 was also Melroe’s first skid loader to wear the “Bobcat” name. Fast forward through the decades and the Bobcat name became indelibly associated with skid loaders – so much so that even today people often refer to a skid-steer loader from any manufacturer as a “bobcat.”
Skid loaders have come a long way since the early 1960s, and virtually every equipment manufacturer has offered a line of the compact loaders – many still do. Modern makers include Bobcat, Caterpillar, Gehl, Case, Mustang, New Holland, John Deere and several others. Gehl, Bobcat and John Deere have been particularly proactive with developing skid loaders that fit the size and budget requirements of acreage owners and small farmers.
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