A skid-steer loader is sometimes referred to simply as a skid-steer or skid loader. A "Bobcat" is a popular brand of skid loader, and the name Bobcat is commonly used as a generic term for any brand of skid loader.

This relatively small and agile vehicle has four wheels. Wheels on the left side are independently controlled from the wheels on the right side. The vehicle steers by skidding, similar to the way a track vehicle steers (such as a tank), except that a skid loader is capable of quickly rotating around its center: The wheels are always parallel to the vehicle body, and steering occurs by moving the left wheels at a different speed and direction (forward or reverse) than the right wheels. So a skid loader turns by "skid steering".

The front-lifting arms of a skid loader pivot from behind the driver. Various types of booms and buckets can be attached to the arms, making it a versatile vehicle for moving objects or landscaping.

Coalition volunteer Paul David Blakely suggested using a skid loader to remove kudzu. He owns a New Holland L565 Turbo skid loader. (Please read our disclaimer.) Kudzu forms a dense mat of woven vines. Paul's initial idea was to insert the two pronged fork on his skid loader underneath the mat of vines and lift it up, as the following two photographs demonstrate. Besides clearing the ground of kudzu, he hoped that many kudzu crowns would be pulled out of the ground. The Coalition has confirmed that this treatment removes more than half of the kudzu crowns from the ground, thereby killing more than half of the kudzu plants. The next ten photos were taken at the Coalition's test site in August 2006..

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A twisting maneuver breaks off a portion of the mass of vines (left). Paul then moves it to a pile (right), and begins the process again.

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He's in there somewhere . . .

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The result is a clean path of bare ground through the kudzu patch. Note that the path passes between a pole and guy wire, demonstrating the exceptional maneuverability of a skid loader for this work. Besides removing kudzu, the skid loader also removed construction debris, shrubs, and small trees, at this site.

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Paul slips a bladed bucket over the fork to treat rough ground. The forks were originally not used whenever the terrain was too uneven. The later addition of metal tracks around the wheels has helped in uneven terrains. Raising the arms risks tipping over the skid loader if the vehicle is not level. The idea is to maintain a low center of gravity, use the blade to scrape off kudzu for removal, and level the ground in the process. Using the skid loader as a small bulldozer disturbs the soil more than when the forks are used. The bucket is also useful for removing large stones or similar heavy objects. Doesn't Paul look determined?

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Paul uncovers a mystery object hidden in the kudzu . . .

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. . . stops to examine it, and discovers a Coalition sign lost in the kudzu: "No Treatment (Natural)". Indeed!

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The final result in this case is a flat path, cleared of kudzu, over what was very uneven ground.

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The Coalition is not only developing new protocols for using the skid loader to remove kudzu (see below). It is also modifying the skid loader to improve removal methods. We thank the following folks for donating their time and materials to this end: Howard Miller at Blanchard Machinery Company (Spartanburg, SC) for a skid loader door for safety; Michael Prince at Piedmont Forklift Inc. (Greenville, SC) for additional forks; and Roddy Jeffers at Pressley Welding & Machine (Spartanburg, SC) who modified the forks.

The next two photographs show the front and back of the modified carriage, the center section of the assembly. The two extensions on either side of the center section allow the attached forks to span a width of seven feet, greater than the width of the skid loader, thereby reducing the tendency of kudzu vines to wrap around skid loader wheels. The number of fork tines used and their positions can vary, as shown in the first photograph. September 2006.

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Photos by Paul David Blakeley. © Copyright 2007. All Rights Reserved

A test of the modified fork was conducted at Broome High School site during September 2007 using five equally spaced fork tines. The kudzu was so strong that within only one hour of use, the repeated loading of the kudzu vines was more than the extensions could take. The welded joints held, but the metal bent about four inches at each end, as can be seen in the first photograph below: The back of the assembly is no longer flat (September 2007). By virtually eliminating the problem of vines wrapping around the wheels, which only happened once in this one hour test, the modification virtually eliminated the time lost in moving the skid loader back and forth to shed the vines. In addition, the wider forks almost doubles the width covered by each forward movement. The bottom line is that Paul was able to accomplish roughly twice as much kudzu removal as with the narrower, standard set of two tines. The assembly was returned to Pressley Machine Works to strengthen the extensions. Roddy Jeffords at Pressley Welding & Machine changed to a much heavier plate to anchor each extension, as is seen in the second photograph (October 2007). Paul's discovery that the skid loader is a useful tool for kudzu removal is an important one. The Coalition is now using it at work sites, and we o measure its effectiveness at killing kudzu.

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Photo by Paul David Blakeley. © Copyright 2007. All Rights Reserved

Here we see a test trial of tracks installed on top of the usual tires of a skid loader. The idea was to provide better traction on sloped ground — and it works! March 2008.

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A boom is attached to the tracked vehicle, and a grapple is at the end of the boom. The extra traction provided by the tracks makes the grapple more effective at pulling out vines. March 2008.

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The grapple hook often leaves much to be desired. Heaving a 65 pound "anchor" uphill is nearly impossible and downhill is no piece of cake. After various trials. it turns out that a faster and more effective means for removing kudzu vines and crowns on level ground, uphill, and down into creek beds and ravines is a rake-like attachment fitted into the nose of a beam. Here is a four foot rake on an eight foot boom, also available in a four foot rake and either a four foot boom or 16 foot boom. Introducing the Kudzilla "Klaw". October 2008.

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Here we see Paul fitting the skid steer with an four foot boom and a four foot rake. October 2008.

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The first photograph shows Kudzilla and the "Klaw" positioned at the edge of a creek bank. In a situation like this, when working uphill or down along a creek bank, Paul Blakeley controls the beam and rake (Klaw) such that the teeth follow the contour of the soil. In the second photograph he has caught kudzu vines in the teeth and is backing up. Looks much like a creature devouring its green lunch. October 2008.

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The first photograph shows Paul David standing between the skid-loader and the forks on Kudzilla. Mounted on the forks in front is an eight foot rake attachment. The second photograph shows the rake attachment pulling kudzu veins out of the ground. January 2009.

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These photographs show the rake on an eight foot boom pulling the vines away from a tree. January 2009.

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For better operator visibility, Paul painted the forks and attachments yellow. Here he is headed into action with chain saws sitting on the forks. The new color also helps make operation safer for volunteers by making it more visible. March 2009.

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VIDEO: John Lane graduated from Kudzu Kollege in 2009. John is Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Wofford College, and Director of Wofford's Environmental Studies Center at Glendale Shoals. John also writes a column for the Spartanburg Journal called Kudzu Telegraph. He recorded the following video of Paul David Blakeley putting Kudzilla into action at Glendale Shoals Preserve. Click on the image to view the video. December 2009.

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"Kudzilla" at Work: Glendale Shoals (December 2009)
Video by John Lane. © Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved.

For examples where the skid-steer loader is used for site work, and for more techniques using the skid-steer, visit our pages at the following links.

Beacon St.
Pinebrook Rd.
Broome High School
Peter's Creek Preserve
Mary H. Wright Greenway Park

Skid Loader: The Bottom Line

  1. General Observations
    1. Removes biomass faster than what 10, perhaps even 100, volunteers can do manually.
    2. Prepares large areas for more effective follow up treatments, especially plastic sheeting.
    3. Makes daunting sites workable by volunteers.
    4. Neither the skid loader wheels or tracks cause little ground disturbance when it is dry, an advantage over some other landscaping equipment. Besides resulting in a "clean" ground appearance, and a reduced likelihood of subsequent erosion problems, it minimally disturbs other plant species that recover after kudzu removal.
    5. Different skid loader protocols are available for treating different types of terrain (see below).
    6. Vines frequently wrap around wheels, and must be cut off by hand. A special-built fork that is wider than the skid loader greatly helps this from happening, but at added expense.
    7. If tow belts are used to pull vines (see below), the belts can snap-back against the operator cage. This hazard is eliminated by installing a see-through operator shield. The use of booms with grapple hooks or rake is more efficient than using tow belts.
    8. The equipment is expensive to purchase.
    9. Operator and skid loader are about $100 per hour to hire.
  2. Level Ground
    1. Protocol: A mass of kudzu is removed by slipping the fork under the mat of kudzu on the ground; moving forward a few feet; lifting the mass to pull vines and crowns from the ground; turning the skid loader left and right to break off vines still connected to the raised mass; and, transport the detached kudzu mass to a pile. If the kudzu mat is relatively thin, then it can be "rolled forward" like a carpet until a suitable mass is built up before it is detached for transport. It is "rolled forward" by raising the mat, moving the skid loader forward, dropping the raised mass, and repeating this process until the desired rolled mass is obtained.
    2. The removed biomass can be piled up to dry, which kills the kudzu crowns. Once safely dead it can be disposed of like any other landscape debris. Or it can be burnt or left in place to decay and compost. (Kudzu compost is rich organic material.)
    3. Large masses of vines, crowns, and some roots are removed by this method.
    4. More than half of the crowns in the ground are removed. More crowns are removed when the ground is damp than when the ground is dry.
    5. It is mostly large kudzu crowns that are not removed by this method, although about half are damaged or split. Incompletely removed crowns can recover and send out new vines. The skid loader fork can remove large crowns from the ground by driving a fork prong a foot or so into the ground under the crown, then lifting it up. It is unnecessary to remove roots to kill kudzu, but this can be done to improve the appearance of the cleared area.
    6. An assistant can remove glass bottles, or other debris, which could cut the skid loader tires or otherwise impede progress. The use of metal tracks over the wheels and filling the wheels with a solid material avoids the problem of ruptured tires.
    7. This method causes the least amount of ground disturbance, compared with other landscaping equipment techniques.
    8. On level ground, about one-half acre can be cleared of kudzu in 3 hours, at about $600 per acre.
  3. Uneven Terrain
    1. Protocol: The short wheel base of the skid loader makes it unstable, and dangerous, on uphill and downhill grades. To avoid this hazard, a grappling hook is tossed up or down into a kudzu patch. The attached tow belt is pulled backward by the skid loader.
    2. While considerably faster at removing kudzu than can be done by hand, it is also significantly slower than the method for level ground (see above).
    3. The swath of cleared ground is determined by the width of the grappling hook, about 2 feet for typical hooks.
    4. The grappling hook is subject to great stress, and must be especially heavy duty.
    5. Grappling hooks usually fail to snag vines lying on the ground, unless an assistant holds the hook down close to the ground.
  4. Vines Hanging From Trees
    1. Protocol: A tow belt with a quick-release hook is threaded around vertical vines, being careful not to include trees within the loop. The loop is tightened and cinched. Effectiveness is reduced if the vines are not tightly held. The skid loader then backs up to pull down the vines.
    2. Frees a tree from a suffocating kudzu mantle in 15 to 20 minutes.
    3. Easily capable of removing 2 and 3 inch diameter vines.
    4. Does not always pull large kudzu crowns out of the ground.
    5. Manual effort usually cannot pull down as much vine mass from a tree as this skid loader method. Other methods, such as gapping, expect dead vines to fall from trees of their own accord; however, dangling dead vines are possible return paths for kudzu.
    6. Makes the area around trees workable for surgical crown removal, or other methods.
    7. Can break tree limbs, or pull down weak or dead trees, which might only be supported by vines. Safe working practices are necessary to deal with these hazards.
  5. Click here to see kudzu control methods for small property owners.