“If you’ve moved to Montana, there is a good chance you’ll encounter a large piece of farm equipment on the road,” notes Montana Ag Safety Director Austin Grazier. “First and foremost, if you are nervous about meeting large farm equipment/machinery, imagine what it’s like driving it. Farm machinery is often loud, large, and challenging to maneuver. Remember, if you cannot see the operator, he/she probably cannot see you.”

Tips for dealing with farming equipment on the road:

  • BE PATIENT! Tractors, swathers, combines, etc. are not designed to go 60 MPH. The farmer or rancher is going as fast as possible and will likely pull over when there is a safe spot to do so.  If you must pass, DO IT SAFELY. That means pass on long, straight sections of the road. DO NOT pass on bridges, curves, or hills. Pass slowly and cautiously.
  • When you see agriculture equipment, slow down. If you are traveling at 55 mph it will only take you seven seconds to rear-end a tractor traveling at 15 mph.
  • Recognize wide vehicles make wide turns. When you see farmers and ranchers veering one direction, DO NOT assume they are moving out of your way. They are likely preparing to make a turn. Slow down and wait until you are certain you can safely proceed.
  • If you are approaching wide machinery, SLOW DOWN AND YIELD. This might mean you need to stop and pull off the road, back up, or even find a different route if you are in a rush. Farm equipment is often wider than their lane and cannot safely pull over on the shoulder.  Recognize that agricultural machinery is often tall, unstable, heavy, and at risk of tipping over if they are on the shoulder or loose surfaces. 

If you are traveling through Montana, you will eventually come across ranchers moving cows across or down a major roadway. “Simply put, don’t drive through the middle of the herd without permission,” said Grazier. “Chances are the ranch was there long before that roadway was and the rancher is just trying to do his job. Often times the rancher will wave you through; when they do, go slowly, cautiously, and stick to one side of the road. The cows will move out of your way, albeit at their own pace, and it’s up to you to be patient.”

Other rural living knowledge from Montana Farm Bureau:

  • Slow down on dirt roads and be sure to give oncoming vehicles a friendly wave.    Open range means you must watch out for livestock on the roads, it is your responsibility.
  • Cows are domestic, but generally not pets. Don’t try to pet or feed one without the owner’s permission. Cows with calves can be very protective of their young and dangerous.
  • If you go through a gate, leave it how you found it.
  • If you run into and tear down someone’s fence, fix it or let the owner know.
  • If it snows, there’s a good chance your driveway won’t get plowed.
  • At certain times of the year, farmers and ranchers work around-the-clock. This could involve loud equipment, lights, dust or mooing cows. 
  • Dirt roads are bumpy and dusty. They get very muddy during snow melt or rain and there are even some that are “impassable when wet.” Heed the signs. Even though you might think it would be a “fun challenge” to get through, it will leave the road severely rutted and ruined for those who need to use it when it dries up.
  • Farmers spray fertilizer and crop protectants to keep their crops healthy and growing.
  • Yes, Montana has grasshopper infestations every so often and they will be all over everything.
  • Don’t be in a rush, enjoy the scenery and be friendly to you neighbors. They will be the ones pulling your car out of the ditch!