With a farm the size of MacFarlane Pheasants, things are always breaking down. From engines to feed lines to the tires on our fleet of vehicles, when something goes belly up, we’re faced with a decision: to repair or replace. But this decision isn’t just a matter of fix-ability, although that’s important. A host of factors must be considered, and what’s best decision for the farm takes more than just a Mr. Fix-It attitude.
There are a few common types of equipment that break down on the farm, and understandably, they’re all vital to our business of raising pheasants. The fan motors that keep air moving in the barns can burn through their bearings or snap a belt. Then there are the feed lines, which can also burn through their motors. Finally, the tires on our vehicles are constantly sustaining punctures, from ATVs to trucks to our tractors, and brakes routinely require evaluation. Either repairing or replacing must take into account the nature of each breakdown, and that takes an attentive eye, experience, and most importantly, a pragmatism that can only be learned over time.
For our fan motors, most are repairable. A new set of bearings is $20; a new belt is $10. Obviously, we hope it’s as quick and easy a fix. But before we just slap a new part on and put the fan back into operation, we’ve learned to test the electrical side of the motor. If it’s getting weak, as it can toward the end of its life, we’ll need to replace it. The same is true if the bearings have begun to eat into the motor. Replacing is more expensive—$150 for a new engine is a lot harder to stomach than a 20-buck fix—but it ensures that our equipment is performing its job at the necessary level. Otherwise, much more expensive problems can develop with the birds.
The tires on our fleet of vehicles require the same level of evaluation, but in this case the vast majority of the time they require replacement. The types of flats you get on a farm differ from the standard flat you’d get on your car. Sheet metal or angle iron doesn’t punch a uniform hole into a tire, and it often creates irregular tears inside, out of sight. We could plug the tires, just like you’d get done at your local mechanic. But the plugs would hold for 30 seconds, or just long enough for the truck to drive off a hundred yards, before blowing out. This wastes time, another factor when considering replacing or repairing.
The most important thing we do when considering a repair or replacement is the initial assessment. Whether it’s a motor or tire, an immediate inspection lets us get to fixing the problem instead of wasting time deliberating over options. In some cases when an initial inspection is inconclusive, we’ll pull the broken machinery aside and replace it with a backup, letting us take a longer look when time isn’t as much of a factor. “I’ve learned to weigh all the costs before making the decision to repair or replace,” says MacFarlane maintenance head Jay Illbeck. “Time is worth something.”