Snow, Farmi winch

Well, the good lord has seen fit to bless us with another foot of snow, so I’m sitting by the fire with a glass of cider and a slab of chocolate cake, contemplating the state of the world.  We went up to Maine last weekend, and on Saturday Joshua and I did some work in the woodlot to prepare for transplanting the sugar maple trees, and in the process tried out Dave’s new Farmi PTO forestry winch.  This is a really neat contraption that hooks up to the 3-point hitch of our 25hp tractor and draws power from the splined PTO shaft that protrudes from the back of the tractor.  Its basic function is to winch logs out of the woods with its 150′ cable, and we found that it works pretty nicely.  We felled a 10 inch maple and three oaks (up to perhaps 14″ diameter) that I had previously selected for thinning to make room for the string of Cornell University improved sugar maple trees.  Our typical practice is to buck up firewood trees into 4 foot lengths (if up to about 8-10″ diameter) or 16″ lengths (if larger), load them onto a trailer, unload them in our traditional firewood-fitting spot near the house, then subsequently buck, split, stack, and trailer them once again to the woodshed or basement.  With the winch, we limbed them where they fell, then pulled them tree-length to a new fitting yard we established by the upper cabin.  This saves us the step of trailering the wood to the yard, and gives us a couple of options.  We can fit and stack it right where it is, transporting it once more to the woodshed.  Alternatively, since we have had more than enough hardwood for our own needs recently, my dad can cut it to 10 foot lengths, load it in his dump trailer with the small excavator, and sell it to folks who are willing to fit it themselves for a discount relative to the fitted price.

As to the performance of the winch itself I would rate it as thoroughly satisfactory given the conditions.  There was about 8″ of old snow on the ground, with the ground frozen underneath, so piloting the tractor over uneven ground was an approximate affair, with extensive use of differential lock and left and right wheel brakes.  The winch itself has a dozer blade which helps to prevent the tractor from backsliding, which was surprisingly effective given the icy ground conditions.  The cable takeup is activated by a clutch by way of a lanyard, and the clutch tension is set about right – if the log hits an obstacle, the winch slips before the engine stalls as long as it’s idled up reasonably high.  The most serious limitation was that the tractor did not have enough traction to actually skid the large timber on the snowy ground – I had to make the entire ~500 foot trip to the yard using about 4 sequential pulls.  This wasn’t too bad; I could reel one in, then freespool the cable out and hitch it to the choker on the next one.  Once they were all drawn up short, I’d freespool the winch again and pull the tractor ahead.  We could pull the logs up a fairly steep incline, over an old stone wall, etc – only a direct hit on a stump would bring things to a halt.  We should have had a peavy on hand to help guide things along, but we didn’t think of it so had to use brute force.  If the ground conditions were dry (or if we had Canadian chains for the tractor) we would have been able to skid the logs directly, saving time.  We also would have benefitted from having some purpose-made 5/16 choker chains, rather than the all-purpose 3/8″ tow chains that we had.  We also noted that it’s important to leave strategically placed trees to be cut last, in order to take the brunt of the logs as they pass, sparing the keeper trees from damage to the trunks near the roots.  But especially under frozen ground conditions and with careful planning, the Farmi winch seems to be a useful tool that promises to substantially streamline harvesting firewood and responsible woodlot management.


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