October 2014
Farm & Field

Dozer Decisions

Tommy Strain of Randolph County with his Caterpillar D6.  

Taming the Bull of Land Management

The bulldozer is the bull of land management. In a few hours, a dozer can complete tasks that would take months with a farm tractor. Since most of us don’t own a dozer, a well-thought-out plan will save money when you hire a dozer and operator for work around your farm.

Choose Your Operator Carefully

If you are trying to balance the wildlife on your land with the management of timber, you can hire a qualified dozer operator for timber-clearing cleanup, creation of food plots and the construction of firebreaks. The most important consideration is hiring a dozer operator who is experienced and has the right dozer for the job.

Tommy Strain of Randolph County has been operating dozers in his construction business for 40 years, and he has completed just about any facet of land management that can be accomplished from the dozer seat.

"The first thing you have to do is match the dozer for the job," Strain explained. "If you are working in tight spots, a smaller dozer works better; but the smaller dozer wouldn’t be as effective if you are trying to push stumps out of the ground."

Even though there are different size classifications based on dozer manufacturers, Caterpillar, for years, has set the size classification where most folks know what size dozer you are talking about. For instance, a Caterpillar D4 is one of the smallest dozers, and it’s used primarily for tight space working or finishing grading work.

  This Caterpillar D5 does an ideal job of finish work and clearing brush for pasture.

"A D4 does a great job of smoothing out a pad or doing finishing grading," Strain said. "However, you would want a larger D6 if you want to pop pine stumps out of the ground after a timber clearing."

The larger dozers are the D8s and D9s, and their job is to move large amounts of dirt quickly.

"If you want to build a one acre pond, a D6 would be ideal if you do not have to push dirt more than 200 feet," Strain continued. "If you are taking dirt farther than that, I would recommend using a pan, which is a dirt-hauling implement that attaches to the dozer."

A Dozer of the Right Size

One of the most common dilemmas the landowner faces when hiring a bulldozer operator is paying by the hour for a dozer that is undersized for the job. Ultimately, you are paying more cash because the smaller dozer may not be designed to handle larger jobs efficiently. Look at the jobs you want completed. If you are simply creating firebreaks, the smaller D4 would be sufficient. If you are smoothing a pad for a hunting cabin, the D4 would provide ample horsepower for the job.

The larger dozers have higher horsepower and can handle big jobs with fewer passes of the blade, but there are drawbacks.

"A D8 or D9 is a much bigger machine, but it’s also a big expense, not only in buying the machine but with the extra costs of moving the dozer and the fuel required," Strain said. "Ultimately, the landowner has to cover the extra costs of the bigger machine when a D6 could have completed the same job with lower expenses."

Timing Helps

If you have thinned or clear cut harvested pine timber, you’ll likely be left with tons of aggravating stumps. Strain recommended waiting at least 2 years before clearing land where pine forests have been.

"In 2 years, the pine stumps will lose the feeder roots through rotting, and they can easily be pushed up with the dozer blade," Strain said. "With a D6, you can simply push up to the stump, push up on the blade and the stump will pop out."

If you are hoping to remove hardwood stumps with a dozer, you may have to wait a few years or hire other equipment such as backhoes that can dig around the stumps.

"The toughest stump to remove is hickory," Strain said. "It takes years for hickory stumps to rot."

Firebreaks and Food Plots

Know in advance where your firebreaks should be or where you want brush piles pushed. If you have a written wildlife or timber management plan, this saves time when the bulldozer operator arrives on site, and, ultimately, it saves money since most dozer operators charge by the hour. Hourly rates can start at $75.

For most wildlife land improvements, Strain advises using the smaller D4 or D5 category bulldozers.

"For firebreaks, I usually use the smaller dozer with the 10-foot wide blade," Strain said. "A firebreak two-blades wide provides a wide, safe corridor for confining burns."

The land manager usually ends up with lots of brush after a timber clearing or thinning. In the log-landing zones where logs have been loaded onto the trucks, there will be a lot of debris left by the de-limbing machines. Strain recommended pushing the debris in one large pile with a firebreak cut around the pile for later burning. In addition to having an ideal spot for a food plot, the area where these burn piles are located will experience the by-product of better soil as a result of the ash left behind.

Best All Around

It’s difficult to pick just one size dozer for all the work to be completed with land management and, more importantly, picking an operator with the experience you need.

"My favorite all around choice for land management would be the D6 Caterpillar," Strain concluded. "As far as picking an operator, nothing replaces experience because it takes considerable know-how to operate a dozer to its potential."

When it’s time to hire a dozer operator, look beyond just the hourly cost. Make sure the operator is skilled and experienced, and make sure the dozer is big enough for the job.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.