A utility tractor with a front-end loader is one of the most versatile machines a hobby farmer can own. Digging, shoving, carrying and dumping loose materials are the main abilities offered by these hydraulic-powered buckets, but take note, you can do a lot more with the hydraulics and lifting arms than simply raise and lower a bucket.
For example, with many front-end loaders you can remove the bucket and install a forklift attachment, sharply altering the abilities of your tractor. A forklift lets you transport items that aren’t suited to being carried in a bucket—pallets of supplies, large logs, round hay bales and so on. If you do any logging on your farm (perhaps to produce your own firewood), a forklift is a big help.
Case in point—a couple of years back, we felled four pine trees that had grown awkwardly and were leaning toward our barn, becoming a safety hazard. The project naturally made quite a mess, but arguably the easiest part to clean up was the tree trunks. After using a chainsaw to cut them into eight-foot lengths, we picked up and transported the logs (each around a foot in diameter) to a nearby sawmill using nothing but a 40-horsepower tractor with a forklift attachment. It had no trouble carrying a couple of logs at a time.
Similarly, we piled smaller branches and loose debris onto the forklift attachment—it could carry a substantial load, much more than the bucket, and without running the risk of having the load fall during transportation. A forklift makes moving heavy, round hay bales easy—just drive the two prongs into the side of the bale and carry it wherever needed.
To me, having a forklift attachment for your tractor makes a lot of sense. As with any attachment, you must follow some precautions. For example, you must take care not exceed the rated weight capacity of the lift; you might find that counterweights at the rear of your tractor are necessary to keep everything balanced and to safely get the maximum lifting ability out of your front-end hydraulics.
And yes, a tractor with an attachment isn’t quite as capable as a dedicated forklift, the kind specifically designed for moving heavy pallets and objects around. A forklift is heavy and properly counterbalanced so that it can lift extraordinarily heavy weights to higher levels than a tractor can, and with much greater precision.
On the other hand, a forklift is also a greater expense than a forklift attachment for a tractor you already own, and unless you have a constant need to move very heavy items around, a forklift might not be worth your money and trouble. After all, it’s yet another machine that you’d have to care for and store somewhere. Plus, some forklifts aren’t really designed for off-road use in poor conditions, such as wet or unstable ground. Forklifts tend to do better on hard ground (think gravel or concrete), though rough-terrain forklifts designed for construction sites (as opposed to warehouses) can be more versatile.
So if you want a relatively inexpensive way to boost your tractor’s capabilities, consider getting a forklift attachment. If you plan to move round bales or logs around, they’re extremely helpful.