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The right season for transitioning to UTVs

Amy Schutte for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 November 2017
Hearding cattle with side-by-side

The aerial view of Adam and Sarah Wilson’s cow-calf operations in Abingdon and Lebanon, Virginia, reveals lush green pastures, tall trees and 300 cow-calf pairs in each location.

Each ranch is expansive and arguably best seen from the seat of a utility vehicle.

The couple owns five side-by-sides between their two operations, and Adam, 38, jokes he is the best unpaid salesman for utility vehicles. The Wilsons jumped on-board from the first moment the crossover vehicles hit the showroom floor around 10 years ago. His wife still rides horses around their property, but he prefers to feed his “horse” gas instead of hay.

Can he imagine life without a side-by-side or two in it?

“I can imagine it, and I don’t want to,” he says. “Buying a side-by-side has been the best move we’ve ever made. It’s more convenient, economical and safer, especially for our two children.”

The Wilsons’ two operations, Wilson Cattle Company and Leonard Land and Livestock, spans three generations. The couple’s parents are both involved, and their two children, Clint, 10, and Madi, 7, are often with the couple as they build fences and move cattle.

Producers using side-by-sides find then convenient and safer than ATVs

Adam says they’ll never go back to life with ATVs after purchasing their five utility vehicles. Horses are ridden more for pleasure than for work on their farms, and he loves being able to put a seat belt on his children as they ride around their land.

While the older generations are embracing the utility vehicles for their comfort and low impact, experts from John Deere and Yamaha say the vehicles appeal to almost every age group.

“Some guys love their horses, but as younger people take over their families’ properties, they are looking for new ways to get things done,” says Steve Nessi, ATV and side-by-side marketing manager for Yamaha. “It’s not about how we can replace horses, but it’s really about giving ranchers the best product to get their work done.”

Utility vehicles offer many of the creature comforts of a truck with the added durability to go off-road or plow through mud and snow on any terrain. Ranchers are turning to the side-by-sides to get more than one person around their operations, and the utility boxes or add-on features make for a yearlong vehicle to be used in any season.

“It’s an all-around tool, and people are always trying to find new uses for them and see what they can do,” says Kevin Lund, John Deere’s marketing manager for utility vehicles. “We talk to guys all the time who like the feeling of safety around large animals. Every cow-calf guy wants protection from the elements and animals.”

Lund likes to use the example of a rancher who tried to separate an aggressive bull from the herd, resulting in a few angry headbutts to the vehicle’s cab. While he’ll never claim the utility vehicles are bull-proof, he feels confident in their ability to take a few hard knocks. “Bull-resistant is what I would call it,” he says.

While the side-by-sides are designed to go to the ends of your adventure and back again, side-by-side experts encourage their customers to keep safety in mind at all times.

Seat belts should be clicked, feet planted firmly on the floor, and reasonable speeds should be adhered to when driving around. If you plan on pushing your vehicle faster, helmets and safety glasses are encouraged.

Winter poses different safety issues for side-by-side operators. Here are a few tips from the experts when operating your utility vehicle:

  1. Outfitting a side-by-side with a cab for winter will create a higher center of gravity. Operators should use greater caution on side-slopes to avoid tipping or rolling their vehicles.

  2. Snow can often cover holes or bumps. When driving off-road in the winter, maintain a safe speed.

  3. Inclement weather can cause low visibility. Consider purchasing light kits or installing a heater/defroster to keep windshields free from ice and frost.

  4. Drivers should have a driver’s license and must be at least 16 years old.

  5. Avoid sitting in the utility bed or on a tool box while the vehicle is in use.

Last, experts advise operators to use their judgement. Side-by-sides are meant for off-road adventures but should be driven with care and caution to avoid serious injury or death. Sharp turns, excessive speeds and steep hill climbs have a higher chance of rolling a vehicle and injuring passengers.

Ron Gill, professor and extension livestock specialist for Texas A&M University, says side-by-sides offer a lower speed and more muffled sound, which can allow drivers to listen to the sounds of their ranch better than they would on an ATV.

“There is better stability with a side-by-side,” he says. “They have a longer wheel-base so they don’t flip as easily. I’ve seen people flip over backward on ATVs or roll them but, like every tool, they’re safe if you use them the way they are designed to be used. Horses, ATVs, side-by-sides –the common dominator is the person using the vehicle.”

Ruby Brackett, part owner of C.E. Brackett Cattle Co. in Rogerson, Idaho, says they bought a side-by-side two years ago after a rough winter that kept them from accessing their cattle with their trucks.

Their two utility vehicles haven’t replaced their use of horses, but Brackett says her parents, who are part-owners in the operation, use them sporadically.

“As my dad has gotten older, he doesn’t like to ride horses as much, so he likes to take them and run ahead and open the gate for us,” she says. “My parents like to take them around. This year for branding, they’d bring up additional cattle for the next day.”

Brackett faces the challenge most ranchers do: “If we had more time to play with them, we would,” she says. end mark

PHOTO 1: The rising use of side-by-side utility vehicles requires some additional know-how for winter safety and maintenance. Photo courtesy of John Deere.

PHOTO 2: Producers using side-by-sides find them convenient and safer than ATVs. Photo courtesy of Yamaha.

Amy Schutte is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

Five winter maintenance tips for side-by-sides

  1. Store vehicles in a covered barn or shed for less wear and tear on the outside of the vehicle.

  2. Check area for mice to keep wires intact and seats in top condition.

  3. Drain the fuel or add a fuel stabilizer if you plan to keep your vehicle stored for a longer period of time.

  4. Check the air filter and change when needed.

  5. Keep oil at an appropriate level and change the fluids after long periods
    of storage.

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