One of the most useful tools on a farm is a tractor. That said, it will require several specialized front-end or pull-behind tools or attachments to complete the tasks required of it each day and each season.
Looking at the front-end-mounted products on the market—mechanically as well as hydraulically operated—can leave you staring into the face of a salesperson who might not know what will work best for your situation.
Some of the most common pull-behind pieces of equipment for a tractor—rotary mowers, finish mowers, disc harrows, box blades, landscape rakes, spreaders, backhoes—could and probably would all get used on a hobby farm, but not all of them are required for every farmer or farming operation.
So before you make that big tractor-attachment purchase, make sure you’re getting what you need by familiarizing yourself with the available implements on the market and what they can accomplish.
Fertilizer & Manure Spreaders
No matter how large your farm, spreading seed and fertilizer is something you’d love help with, right? Enter the spreader. It will allow you to reclaim manure as a natural fertilizer and spread it over areas not affected by its byproducts. If you’re looking to save money, these attachments do also come as pull-behind models so you can get the same spreading action in a smaller package.
Forks on a tractor make moving anything on a pallet—seed, feed, fertilizer, you name it—a breeze. You can even use forks to carry other tractor attachments. They typically hook over the same bar as a loader would on the front of the tractor, and can be installed or removed in a matter of minutes. If front forks pique your interest, make sure you purchase adjustable ones for more versatility. In the place of a bale spear (which does just what it sounds like), you can also use adjustable forks to move large round bales of hay.
A rotary tiller pulverizes the soil in large swaths, which can speed up the process of prepping land for seeding, and it can help clear scrubby undergrowth, as well. These attachments are typically powered via a shaft connected to the tractor’s PTO. Tilling simplifies the introduction of compost or manure to the soil, and a pass with a rotary tiller will also aerate your soil quite well. This is especially helpful when you have large acreage, but even a small-scale hobby farm can benefit from a good tractor-mounted rotary tiller.
While handy, these implements are also pretty costly, so serious consider it before spending the extra money for one. If you are consistently doing light grading, spreading gravel or earth, or even using the tractor to clean out and replace shavings in larger-scale poultry houses, then a front-end loader might be what you need. Remember, though, that having the ability to lift and move earth requires a substantial tractor behind the bucket, so if a front-end loader is a must-have for you, make sure your tractor can properly support it.
If you’re looking to tackle a significant amount of mowing and you aren’t overly concerned about a finished appearance, the rotary cutter—aka a brush hog or bush hog—is the implement for you. These attachments will help you make quick work of mowing pasture, clearing tree lines or even tackling underbrush. Weigh the cost against the benefits of being able to manage larger plots of land. Finish mowers could also be a good fit for you, as they create a fine, clean look when used properly.
I’ve heard some farmers say that you don’t know how much work a backhoe can do until you have one. These convenient, versatile attachments afford a tractor owner a wide variety of abilities: cutting drainage ditches, digging field lines, moving earth for foundations, removing stumps and uprooting small trees, to name a few. You can also use a backhoe to add water lines or troughs for power expansion and even carrying small trees or shrubs to harvest or plant. You’ll likely get more use out of this attachment than you would ever expect.
A box blade or scraper attachment can be used to grade entry and service roads, as well as to spread or even out gravel along existing roadbeds. During wet months, those unpaved roads can become uneven or rutted, and gravel will tend to push to the outside of the roadway after constant use, but a box blade will make road maintenance much more feasible. Using a multiangle box blade to cut over high edges or to fill in gaps in the road that hold water is a valuable benefit.
After you have plowed your garden spot, this tool will help break up large chunks of soil, making the ground you want to seed soft and ready for sowing. The disc harrow can also be used to kill the early flush of weeds and turn up residue left by previous years’ crops; some farmers even use disc harrows to prep the ground before cultivation. The same set of discs can also be used to level out any ruts left by larger equipment. Depending on the size of the discs and the depth of the soil where you plan to drag them, a harrow may require the use of a more powerful tractor.
Using a single-blade middle buster, you can dig potatoes or use this tool as a breaking plow. If you have hardpan ground that impairs drainage or plant growth, a middle buster can help break up that tough soil. Typically used for field preparation, this tool’s blade can be used for clearing drainage ditches or creating runoff areas around your crops. It can also be used as a furrower to help with sowing.
Opening new ground or earth that has not been cultivated in some time is easy with an S-tine or C-shank cultivator. (The difference in name comes from the shapes of the tines: C-shanks have C-shaped tines and S-tines are indeed S-shaped.) These cultivators typically come with fixed tines and shanks, but you can also find spring-loaded ones that can prevent breakage if you run into thick roots or rocks. These spring-loaded versions are also usable with lower horsepower tractors. Depending on the model, the tines can be removable and the spacing between them can be adjustable.
The implements mentioned previously are some of the most common ones, but there are many more on the market that have been made for additional tasks around the farm. Because these aren’t overly common chores, you may want to consider renting these implements on an as-needed basis to save a little cash.
Boom Pole: This lifting device is well-suited to moving large poles, broken equipment, drums of feed and even other tractor implements without having to attach them onto the tractor again. It can basically be used as a miniature crane should you need to service a machine or even a farm truck.
Log Splitter: You can save yourself some considerable time and effort by using a log splitter to chop wood. The three-point-hitch-mounted unit can be run either through the tractor’s onboard hydraulics or a PTO attachment.
Post-hole Digger: This PTO-driven implement can be used to dig holes for fence posts or for replanting trees, plants and shrubs. You can purchase (or rent) varying spindle sizes all the way up to a 30-inch diameter, depending on the size and power rating of your tractor.
Snow Blower: If you get a formidable amount of snow every year, a PTO-driven snowblower might even be a required purchase! These are great for clearing driveways and service roads, or to clear paths to the barn or other outbuildings.
Stump Grinder: Clearing land for improvements requires many specific tasks, one of which is likely cutting down trees, and a stump grinder will help you fully remove those pesky stumps and continue on with your project.
When looking for implements to fit with your tractor, be realistic about the expectations you have for the type of farming or hobby farm you have developed: Along with your budget, this will govern what types of attachments you eventually purchase. And don’t forget to outline exactly what duties you want your tractor to perform. If all goes well, your and your tractor will have lots of attachments to work with for years to come.
Raised in rural north Georgia, Rick Sosebee spent many summers at his grandparents’ farm working on small engines and learning mechanics from his grandfather, Vernon Sosebee, who owned Sosebee’s Lawn and Garden for more than 25 years.