Farming Magazine - February, 2013

WOODLOTS

Farm Tractor Logging for Woodlot Owners


Photo courtesy of JBTHEMILKER/morguefile.com.
The forest industry pays a higher price for wood piled at roadside than it does for standing timber. If a logger/farmer can log the wood to roadside with their farm tractor logging system for less cost than the increase gained in price, they can profit from doing their own logging.

Many American farmers own timberland, have farm tractors suitable for logging, and have a slack season during the winter. But in some areas, the forest industry raw material supply infrastructure discourages wood produced by part-time farmer/loggers. Some forest products companies prefer to buy stumpage, or standing timber, from the forest landowner and have it logged to their specifications and delivered to their mill by a preferred group of professional full-time logging contractors. Through this arrangement, they maintain greater control over the quality, quantity and scheduling of their raw material flow. However, there are areas where landowner-produced wood is welcomed.

Farmers considering part-time farm tractor logging may also have justifiable concerns over the issue of safety. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (www.cdc.gov/niosh), logging has consistently been one of the most hazardous industries in the U.S. In 2010, the logging industry employed 95,000 workers and accounted for 70 deaths. This results in a fatality rate of 73.7 deaths per 100,000 workers that year. This rate is over 21 times higher than the overall fatality rate in the U.S. in 2010 (3.4 deaths per 100,000). Many farmers simply don't want to risk the accident and injury exposure that logging involves, and rightfully so. However, with professional training, extensive use of personal protective equipment (such as hard hat, saw chaps and steel-toed boots) and a healthy respect for the dangers inherent in logging, a properly equipped farmer could develop a profitable part-time farm tractor logging operation for use on their own forestland.

Small-scale farm tractor logging may also be used in certain cases to lessen the environmental impact of a timber harvesting operation. The smaller, lighter farm tractor may be able to operate effectively on partial cuts in dense timber stands where larger skidders or forwarders might possibly cause residual stand damage or soil compaction. A farm tractor logging system, with its relatively low capital investment and operating costs, may be an effective way to meet other non-timber landowner objectives that require logging small areas infrequently, like clearing wildlife plots or opening up recreation areas. Larger, full-time professional loggers with higher capital and operating costs often cannot afford to move their equipment for such small jobs. Finally, farm tractor logging can be a very effective system for producing firewood from the farm woodlot for personal consumption or commercial sale.

For a part-time farm tractor logging venture to be successful, the following criteria should be met:

1 The farmer must own enough timber to justify the investment in training and equipment. As a rule of thumb, at least 40 acres of mature timber would be required. In addition, this timber must be located on land suitable for logging with a farm tractor system - not too steep and rocky or too wet and swampy. It should have reasonably good access and be adjacent to a trafficable road where a log truck can travel to pick up the "banked" wood or logs.

2 The farmer must have a farm tractor suitable for modification to logging. To handle a full range of log sizes and species typical of many woodlots, the tractor should be a moderately powerful, four-wheel drive model with at least 60 hp rating and a low center of gravity.

3 The farmer must be in top physical shape. Felling and bucking timber with a chain saw is a highly strenuous physical activity. Working in the forest environment requires an alert individual not dulled by fatigue.

4 The farmer must be proficient in the use of a professional-quality chain saw. Often referred to as "the most dangerous tool known to man," the chain saw is also the most efficient way to manually fell, limb and buck a tree. Under no circumstances should an individual inexperienced with a chain saw attempt to begin a logging operation. "On-the-job training" is not an acceptable way to learn how to fell trees with a chain saw. Professional training with an experienced chain saw operator is a must. Many chain saw manufacturers offer training programs, and chain saw training videos are available from a variety of sources, including extension services. A few independent professional timber harvesting training companies also offer workshops on chain saw use and safety.

5 The farmer will be required to invest thousands of dollars in farm tractor modification and attachments, professional training, chain saw, personal protective equipment, logging chain, and other miscellaneous equipment and supplies.

6 The farmer must contract with a log truck owner to pick up the logs or pulpwood "banked" at roadside and deliver it to the sawmill or pulpwood yard. They must also contract with the mill for a "delivered" price for the wood or logs, based on the mill's raw material specifications and method of scale (volume or weight).

7 The farmer should be somewhat knowledgeable regarding forestry and the different types of cutting methods. Many harvesting alternatives are available to the forest landowner, and the best choice depends upon landowner objectives, desired species mix, regeneration goals, local timber markets, age and quality of the timber stand, forest health and many other factors. Harvest cut alternatives range from single-tree selection (uneven-aged management favoring shade-tolerant species) to clear-cuts (even-aged management favoring shade-intolerant species) to group selection, shelterwood and thinning. Any landowner unfamiliar with basic forestry principles would be well advised to consult with a professional forester prior to undertaking any timber harvesting operation.

8 The farmer must become familiar with the various laws and regulations affecting timber harvesting. OSHA logging safety standards and various environmental, operational and trucking regulations all affect a logging operation.

Two modified farm tractor logging systems are commonly used and available commercially in the U.S. They are a skidder system and a forwarder system.

Using the farm tractor as a skidder

In a skidder system, the trees are manually felled with a chain saw. The logger then delimbs (cuts the limbs off flush with the bole) and tops (cuts off the bole of the tree near the top at the point where the tree's diameter falls below minimum merchantable size) the tree where it lies at the stump. Whenever possible, the trees should be directionally felled with the butts oriented toward the landing, or location to which the trees will be skidded. This will make the skidding job easier. After a few trees have been felled, delimbed and topped, the logger moves the modified farm tractor skidder into position, sets the brake, pulls out the winch cable, attaches the chain or cable chokers to the butts of two or three trees, winches them in to the tractor, raises the ends up with the three-point hitch, and skids the tree-length stems to the roadside landing. At roadside, the logger bucks the trees (measures and cuts the tree-length stems into specified log lengths). After a full truckload of logs or pulpwood has been banked at roadside, a self-loading log truck (one with a hydraulic knuckle-boom loader mounted just behind the cab) picks them up and delivers the load of logs or pulpwood to the mill.

For a skidder logging application, the farm tractor should be modified as follows:

1 A steel skid plate, or belly pan, should be welded under the tractor's motor, transmission and steering components. The belly pan protects the tractor's underside and reduces the number of times it will hang up on a stump or rock.

2 The tractor must be equipped with an OSHA-approved roll bar or protective cab.

3 Radiator protection in the form of a steel grille guard, as well as engine side guards, is necessary.

4 Ten or 12-ply tires, with valve stem protection plates welded on the rim, may be advisable, especially in rougher terrain.

5 Tire chains may be necessary on the rear wheels when logging on soft ground or snow.

6 Counterweights on the tractor's front end to improve machine stability will be required for skidding.

7 A fire extinguisher should be carried in the tractor at all times.

8 A special logging winch is also required. This logging winch is mounted on the tractor's three-point hitch and operates off the PTO. Use of the special logging winch allows skidding of multiple logs with the ends of the logs locked snugly against the winch frame and lifted off the ground by the three-point hitch, eliminating hang-ups and reducing drag as the logs are pulled through the woods. Dragging logs with a farm tractor not equipped with a logging winch is very dangerous and inefficient and is not advised.

A skidder system is the most economical farm tractor logging system, requiring the minimum amount of additional investment. It is most efficient when the skidding distance from the stump to the roadside landing averages less than 500 feet.

Using the farm tractor as a forwarder

With a farm tractor forwarder logging system, the trees are also manually felled with a chain saw. They are delimbed, topped and bucked into log lengths at the stump. The logs are then loaded onto a logging trailer with a grapple loader mounted on a modified farm tractor. After loading the logs onto the logging trailer, the farm tractor pulls, or forwards, the trailer to the roadside landing. At the roadside landing, the operator off-loads the logs from the logging trailer using the grapple loader, either directly onto a log truck or stacking them in a pile for later pickup and delivery to the mill.

For use as a forwarder, a farm tractor should be modified as follows:

1 Belly pan, radiator protection grille, engine side guards, roll bar or protective cab, reinforced tires with valve stem guards, tire chains, counterweights and fire extinguisher are all necessary modifications, whether using the farm tractor as a skidder or as a forwarder.

2 The tractor must be equipped with a hydraulic grapple loader. These units are usually mounted on the tractor's three-point hitch, although they can be mounted on the front of a powered logging trailer as well. Grapple loader attachments generally require a tractor hydraulic system with a flow rate of at least 5 gallons per minute (GPM). Boom attachments such as trenching and loading buckets are available that can serve a variety of agricultural purposes when the unit is not being used for logging.

3 A logging (forwarding) trailer is also required in a forwarder logging e trailer can range from a common four-wheel flatbed utility farm trailer equipped with four temporary standards (upright poles to hold the logs on the trailer), to a PTO-powered, bogie-axle, specially designed logging trailer.

Using a farm tractor as a forwarder requires a larger investment in equipment than a farm tractor skidder system. Advantages of forwarder logging include a larger payload on each trip from stump to landing, less ground disturbance since the logs are being carried rather than skidded, the ability to stack and/or off-load the logs directly onto a truck at the landing, and the opportunity to use the grapple loader attachment as a versatile agricultural implement. For farmers with larger woodlots and long skid distances who plan to do considerable part-time logging and have their own log truck, a forwarder system may prove to be well worth the investment.

As forest stewardship programs increase landowner awareness regarding the interrelationship of timber harvesting with wildlife and other multiple-use aspects of forest management, woodlot owners with a tractor and a chain saw may see advantages in being able to do their own logging. And if you are going to log, get the proper training and equipment, and be safe.

For additional information, contact your local forestry extension office, state department of forestry, or a professional logging contractor.

Adapted from "Farm Tractor Logging for Woodlot Owners," by Robert M. Shaffer. Shaffer was an associate professor of forest operations and timber harvesting extension specialist with Virginia Tech's Department of Forestry. He is now retired. Courtesy of Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University.