Skid Loaders: Nimble, Compact and Versatile

Skid loaders are great machines for moving dirt and hay bales, grading your driveway, working in tight spaces, and more!

| August/September 2010

You’ve seen them on job sites and landscaping projects, there’s at least one down at the local grain elevator, and your hay supplier uses one to load big round bales onto your trailer. I’m not talking about a forklift attachment for your compact tractor; I’m talking about those delightfully maneuverable, supercompact skid loaders that seem to be popping up just about everywhere.

The skid loader (often called a skid-steer loader) is 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 used 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 homesteaders and small farm operations.

A Loaded History

The skid-steer loader was born in 1960 as the M-400, which was built by Melroe Company in Gwinner, N.D. 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. Drivers steered the machine — crawlerlike — by clutching the left and right side drives independently of each other, which meant the machine could spin within 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. 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 loaders — many still do. Modern makers include Bobcat, Caterpillar, Gehl, Case, Mustang, New Holland, John Deere, and several others. Bobcat, Gehl and John Deere have been proactive in developing skid loaders that fit the size and budget requirements of homesteaders and small-scale farmers.

Mighty Mini Machine

The skid-steer machine makes an excellent dedicated loader. It works great in the dirt pile and when landscaping the yard. It’s also a fantastic barn-cleaning, corralgrading, and lane-maintaining machine, but there’s so much more it can do.

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