PHOTO: John Deere
Rodney Wilson
November 12, 2019

Winter weather is pretty close at hand, and with it comes farm chores that require bundling: fetching firewood, tackling frozen waterers, removing snow and the like. As we enjoy the cool creeping into fall nights, it’s also time to think ahead and get ready for winter, and chief among those thoughts should be snow removal. On a farm, where driveways can wind beyond the sight line, appropriate removal of the white stuff calls for much more than a wide shovel and can sometimes keep you from getting snowed in. Also, chores are so much easier when you’re not carrying heavy buckets through a foot of snow.

Tractor attachments designed for snow removal make a huge difference in how a farmer experiences the winter. Whether your tool is tow-behind or front- or loader-mounted, putting some horsepower behind the task, especially with the added luxury of a heated cab, can make fun out of an otherwise backbreaking task. And when the snow falls, clearing driveways of friends and neighbors can earn some goodwill or even extra cash.

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Snow Removal: Location, Location

The first question is where on the tractor you want to position your snow removal attachment. Front- or loader-mounted attachments offer an important benefit over the tow-behind options; the attachment gets to the snow before the heavy wheels, which can compact the snow and leave slick tracks on the ground.

If you have the capability for front- or loader-mounting, specially designed implements can help you clear more, faster. The lowest-cost front- or loader-mounted option is a snow pusher, which is a large metal box, sometimes fitted with a metal or rubber lip that collects and pushes snow forward to a chosen location. A pusher can move a lot of snow quickly, and its boxy design moves snow with accuracy.

Scape or Blow

A pusher’s location is prescribed to the front end, but other approaches offer front- or rear-mounting options for snow removal. The simplest implement is a blade (such as the one pictured above). Blades are common to what crews use to clear public roads, and you can choose from a variety of designs to fit your purpose and budget.

Curved blades, for instance, “roll” snow for a cleaner end result, while fixed blades, angling blades, trip blades and six-way blades offer varying levels of control over how and where snow is cleared. If you opt for a front-mounted blade, a salting or sanding implement can be mounted in the rear; however, front-mounting can require costly subframes and you won’t be able to use the bucket.

If scraping isn’t your thing—it can make a mess of the surface below if used improperly—you can choose a snow blower to clear heavy snow quickly, but all options have some drawbacks. Rear-mounted snow blowers encounter compacted snow or require the driver to operate in reverse. Front-mounted blowers can require subframes, while loader-mounting calls for hydraulic power packs.

snow removal tractor snowblower

Regardless of blower style, start by adjusting the skid shoes for 1 inch of clearance between the ground and attachment. Next adjust the chute and deflector angle to move snow far enough away that you won’t have to re-clear it on another pass. And, when operating, go slow and steady to prevent clogs.

Safety First

Snow removal attachments offer a powerful line of defense against Mother Nature, but basic precautions are necessary for a safe experience. Preplan your route, being mindful of what might be hidden beneath the snow to avoid dangerous collisions. Dress appropriately so you don’t get caught far away from the house in arctic temperatures. And clean and maintain your tractor and attachments after each use, as snow removal can take a toll on machines.

Plowing Precautions

Snow, ice and cold make operating a tractor more difficult and more dangerous, according to George Maher, retired agricultural safety specialist at the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

“Tractor operators should change their driving practices to adjust for winter conditions,” Maher says, noting that braking ability on many tractors is affected significantly by snow and ice because most two-wheel-drive tractors only have brakes on their rear wheels. That problem is compounded when front-end loaders are carrying heavy loads of snow or hay. “Even tractors with front-wheel assist have limited stopping ability,” he says. “Only the true four-wheel-drive tractors have four-wheel braking.”

The use of front-end loaders requires considerably more caution in winter conditions than during summer. Slippery conditions increase the hazard of maneuvering elevated loads. “Always keep the load and speed low where traction is poor,” Maher says.

Consider these other tips when using your tractor to clear snow.

  • Before the first snowfall, remove large stones, toys, etc. from the areas that will need snow removal.
  • Be sure to mark obstacles, such as water and gas shutoffs, so their locations are obvious under the snow.
  • Set your blade to the right height off the ground, so you don’t dig up half the gravel on your driveway.
  • Plow snow in daylight hours.
  • In any snow—especially heavy, wet snow—take your time. If the snow is deep, take multiple passes, lowering your blade each time.
  • Dress warm and in layers.
  • Come to complete stop before shifting from forward to reverse, accelerate slowly, don’t ride the clutch and periodically change your transmission fluid.

This story originally appeared in the September/October 2018 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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