“Tractors will never replace a good team of horses!” With those words (or words to that effect), my grandfather sealed the fate of the Boyt Saddle and Harness Co. of Des Moines, Iowa. In the mid-1950s, when many farmers made the switch, the idea of a hobby farm would have been considered outlandish. Farming was hard work and required a tough, pragmatic approach.
Even though today’s hobby farming may be a part-time or recreational activity, selecting equipment requires the same practical decisions. Here are a few things to consider when buying a tractor: Think about the tasks it will perform. Bigger is not always better, and a compact 20-horsepower garden tractor may well be more useful (and affordable) than a 140-horsepower behemoth. A front-end loader is almost a necessity for lifting and hauling. Depending on your situation, you might get by without four-wheel drive, but the added utility makes it a highly desirable feature. Without further ado, here are 15 of the best reasons to own a tractor.
1. Brush Hogging
Mowing heavy brush or just keeping the weeds down is one of the most common jobs for a tractor. A medium-duty, 5- to 6-feet-wide brush hog is fine for most pasture and trail maintenance, but you may decide you need a “finish mower” to quickly trim the lawn around the house for a golf course manicure. When selecting a mower attachment, be sure that it matches the horsepower of your tractor.
2. Land Clearing
If clearing rocks, heavy brush, trees and other debris for crops or pasture is on your to-do list, a tractor provides the muscle for heavy lifting, pulling and hauling. A good winch lets you pull the load to you for easier removal. The selection of a 12-volt electric winch, gas-powered winch or power-takeoff (PTO) winch depends on your budget and how much pulling you need to do. Brush pullers are special tongs that attach to bushes or saplings so you can pull them out by the roots with the tractor or winch. The front-end loader, of course, is useful for pushing, lifting and carrying brush and logs. For heavy loads, a rear carrier might be just what you need, because it has more lift capacity and puts the weight on the tractor’s more robust rear axle.
Plows, disks, seed drills and cultivators are available for every size tractor, so you can work a plot of land as intensively as you want and maybe expand your hobby to a small truck farm. The manure spreader is an often overlooked tool that can be very useful. The auger makes planting fruit and nut trees, berries and ornamentals an easy job.
4. Livestock Care & Feeding
The good visibility, large tires and precise control allow you to position your load of hay or grain with precision to minimize lifting and carrying. A mid-size tractor that can move large round hay bales can help reduce your feed bills and save you time. In bad weather, the tractor may well be the only way to get feed to livestock and can be a lifesaver when you need to bring a newborn calf to the shelter of a barn during a blizzard or cold snap.
5. Emergency Transport
A flood, tornado or other natural disaster may make roads impassable. Those big tractor wheels can plow through mud and climb over debris that would block a 4WD pickup, making it the ultimate “get there” vehicle. With a front-end loader to move debris and a blade to plow and fill ruts, you will be able to get to town for vital supplies, help your neighbors and enable utility crews to get through to restore power.
Whether you are building a fish pond, retaining wall or planting shrubs to beautify your home, you need a tractor. Use the front end loader of rear lift to move rocks and fill dirt and the blade to sculpt the ground, level off hills, direct drainage and build small ponds. If you have a lot of trees and shrubs to plant, consider a post-hole auger. The rock roller pushes the rocks down into the ground and compacts rock on the driveway to give a hard, durable surface without paving.
7. Fence Building
Reeling out four 80-pound rolls of barbed wire, as well as carrying steel posts, post driver, fence stretcher, corner posts, post-hole digger, iron bar and shovel, requires a Herculean effort—or, in my case, a “Henry” effort, which is what I fondly call my old 8N Ford tractor. A steel rod mounted on the back of the trailer serves as a spindle for rolling out the wire as you drive down the fence line.
8. Construction Projects
It’s difficult to imagine tackling any construction project without a tractor. Drilling holes goes faster with an auger, whether for a pole barn or setting a mailbox at the end of the driveway. The backhoe is one of the coolest (and most expensive) attachments you can put on a tractor. Use it to dig foundations, electric and water lines, or move sand and gravel. The loader—especially if equipped with forks—makes quick work of unloading building materials, moving sacks of cement, setting rafters or trusses in place, and lifting roofing materials.
9. Firewood Friend
It’s difficult to imagine hauling, cutting and splitting firewood without a tractor. Nimble enough to navigate through the woods and over stumps that would challenge a four-wheel-drive pickup truck, a tractor’s big wheels leave scarcely a mark on the soil. The most efficient way to move firewood out of the woods is to cut it into manageable lengths and load them on a trailer for later cutting and splitting; the front-end loader comes in handy for the big ones. There are also splitters that work off the tractor’s hydraulics and/or PTO. If you really take your firewood seriously, consider a tractor-powered firewood processor that cuts and splits logs in one pass at the rate of several cords per hour.
Throw a few bales on a flatbed trailer (hay wagons are great), and you have the makings of a hayride. Make a spot for a bonfire, bring a few acoustic instruments and swap stories, and you will have an event that your city-dwelling friends and family will remember for years.
11. Trail Maintenance
Building trails takes planning, hard work and the right equipment. Whether for recreation, logging, fire control or access, you need a tractor to build them and keep them open. The tractor provides transport for you and your equipment, and, equipped with a loader on the front and a brush hog on the back, you can easily move heavy logs aside and mow while you build and clear the trails. Brush piles are great for wildlife habitat, but if you find the amount of brush overwhelming, you might opt for a PTO-powered chipper/shredder, which reduces the brush to a convenient size for mulch or compost.
Harvesting usually involves driving the tractor down rows to haul your bounty back to the house. If you plan to harvest your own hay, used sickle bar mowers, hay rakes and square baling machines are often available for a reasonable price. There is also specialized equipment, including tree shakers for nut trees and potato diggers.
13. Snow Removal
After a snowstorm, a tractor (again, preferably four-wheel-drive), front-end loader and blade, can be essential to dig yourself and your neighbors out, make a path to the barn, do a little road clearing, and even pull a car or two out of the ditch. Tire chains are optional, but are especially helpful on ice.
14. Backup Power
Your tractor can serve as a mobile powerhouse. Connect a 110-volt inverter to your tractor battery for a power supply that will run saws, drills, lights, computers and communication equipment. A deep-cycle battery and high-capacity alternator will extend the power output. The tractor is also a good way to move a generator to where it is needed. You can also purchase a PTO-powered generator that runs directly off the tractor.
15. Face It: You Want One!
With the amazing versatility and utility of farm tractors, there is almost certainly one that fills your needs. Vintage tractors, such as my 8N Ford, are available at a reasonable price, but newer tractors with four-wheel-drive, hydrostatic transmissions and heated/air conditioned cabs (stereo optional) are more user-friendly.
There is nothing like being in a tractor seat and feeling the power surge through it as the engine sputters, purrs and/or roars (depending on the tractor) to life, then lifting a dozen 50-pound sacks of feed with a mere push of a lever or mowing 5 acres in a matter of of hours.