In a perfect world, wouldn’t it be great to have one machine to handle heavy bucketloads like a wheel loader, stack hay bales taller than a front-end loader, maneuver through tight spaces like a skid-steer loader and tow a trailer at good road speeds up to 25 mph to quickly move from one location to another? A machine with such acute versatility isn’t just a dream. All of those tasks and more can be accomplished with a telescopic handler, or telehandler.

The telehandler is a European invention widely used for decades ‘across the pond’ on farms with confined spaces. As the range and complexity of tasks in forage crop production have grown and the industry trends toward mechanization, the versatility of telehandlers has led to their increased use on farms across North America.

Rather than investing in multiple machines for production tasks, a telehandler can offer multipurpose solutions.

The best telehandlers on the market today for farm applications were purpose-built for the agriculture market. For example, in silage-handling applications, a telehandler with a reinforced two-section boom that extends on hydraulic cylinders, paired with a loader bucket linkage, is better suited to rake and load loose silage.

Additionally, proportional hydraulic flow sharing allows you to multi-task without decreasing hydraulic cycle times.


Known for durability, the strength of telehandlers comes from their design and how the boom extends outward and upward from the vehicle. The boom can be separated into two, three or even four segments and is operated by either chains or hydraulic cylinders. Most commonly used to lift and place materials, telehandlers can also perform loading tasks, including the bucket work commonly required on a farm.

Booms can have a high-pin or low-pin design. However, the visibility that a low-pin boom offers is more suited for farming than a high-pin boom, which extends across the cab and blocks the operator’s ability to see what is around him.

A low-pin boom provides optimal all-around visibility even when the boom is lowered, which is critical when working around livestock or inside a barn when a clear view is essential.

Telehandlers come in a variety of size classes, from compact machines that handle around 5,000 pounds up to larger versions with lifting capacities of more than 11,000 pounds.

If tight spaces are a challenge for your operation, consider a design with low machine height to work in smaller areas when you don’t need to extend the boom upward.

Compare the percentage of time you spend on loading versus lifting materials on your farm.

Because the telehandler does so many things well, making use of this multi-application machine could save a lot of time, effort and money. A telehandler can be put to work inside or out to accomplish tasks traditionally reserved for skid-steer loaders, small tractors and front-end loaders, all while providing greater lift height.

With a turning radius that allows it to easily maneuver tight spaces, telehandlers are ideal for work in and around barns. They are adept at traveling up and down livestock rows to provide feed and grain for cattle, cleaning out pens and supporting bedding tasks.

The machine is also useful for adding compaction to silage piles, and the crab-steering function is often used to safely move a telehandler near the edge of the pile.

When moving hay bales in the fields, using a telehandler to load both sides of the truck is faster and easier because the boom extends further than a more traditional machine – reducing travel distance and overall truck loading time.

Good driving speeds up to 25 mph mean moving the telehandler from one work site to another is a quick shot down the road, even with a 20,000-pound loaded trailer attached.

To take full advantage of the machine’s versatile nature, consider the range of work tools available on the market. A design that incorporates a quick-attach coupler will make changing attachments easy with the push of a few buttons from inside the cab. Swapping tools to go from a bucket to a shear or a fork shouldn’t take more than a few seconds.

Telehandlers should be easy to operate for anyone who has driven other types of farm equipment. The only big difference to be aware of is that the load can be moved out of its safe zone if precautions aren’t followed.

For this reason, an easy-to-read load chart is provided inside the cab. Still, with operator safety in mind, you might want to consider controls that have the option to function like a skid-steer loader. Some machines give the operator the ability to flip a switch in the cab and change the controls to operate more like a skid steer, if that’s the style the operator is used to.

For operators new to a telehandler, another safety tip is to remember to lift before you place. The operator should move the work tool into a load and secure it with the boom fully retracted, then lift and extend the boom. Remember to lift then extend, in that order. It’s a more productive way to operate the machine and ensure loads are within a safe capacity. Here are some additional safety tips for operators to remember:

  • Only use telehandlers on firm ground or surfaces.

  • Confirm whether the machine is in two-wheel, crab- or circle-steering mode before beginning operation.

  • Check for overhead obstructions before raising loads; never raise the boom if contact with overhead power lines is a possibility.

  • To prevent tipping or overturning, avoid raising loads when the machine is on a slope unless the machine has a frame-leveling option.

  • Avoid driving on steep slopes in general and never drive laterally across excessively steep slopes.

  • Always maintain visibility of your surroundings, especially other people working near the machine.

  • Never leave the operator seat while the engine is running; always shift to neutral, set the parking brake, turn the engine off and remove the key before leaving the machine.

  • Use caution when crossing culverts, as they often lack necessary support for telehandler loads or have insufficient backfill.

Equipment today is much more advanced than it was even 10 years ago. In addition, the range of intricate work tools now available allows machines to perform jobs with precision and accuracy that was once only achievable through many hours of manual labor.

With business booming and farms growing exponentially in size, sometimes it’s just not feasible to complete some tasks by hand as they were done a generation or two ago.

In years past, American farming culture leaned toward a segmented approach to equipment. Farm operations required doing what worked best at the time, including use of the tools on hand. If a trailer needed to be hauled, your grandfather’s tractor would do the trick. If hay bales needed to be stacked, only a forklift would do.

As many family farms are being transitioned to the next generation and machinery is being replaced and upgraded, versatile machines like the telehandler help increase efficiency and profit. For this reason, their growth and acceptance in the American agriculture market is expected to continue.  FG

Michael G. Peterson
Telehandler Product Application Specialist
Caterpillar, Inc.