• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Tractors, necessary, or luxury?  RSS feed

 
Zachary Morris
Posts: 28
Location: Southern Oregon, 6a/6b
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Some days I wake up and say "I AM THE TRACTOR." At which time my dog barks and we show off in the mirror.

Others I think "Hmm, maybe a small tractor would be the way to go" and proceed to shovel shit n' huff rocks in a wheel barrow up a hill.

So that's basically the debate I'm encouraging, is a tractor necessary on a permaculture homestead/farm/ranch.

Is it still necessary on 5 acres? 2? 1?

What if you have a steep slope, or dense vegetation and trees?

I'm a young guy who's worked outdoors for the past decade and generally my first choice is always to put in the sweat in exchange for the savings. However I wouldn't be anywhere without my tools, and a Tractor, like my truck, is indeed another tool. Used properly I'd be willing to consider that it is in fact a better bang for my buck, especially as I earn better wages. Maybe it could even be a source of employment.

How do you feel? What're your circumstances?
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
Posts: 1387
Location: northern California
46
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Loose thoughts....
1. It's a big expense to buy, and a significant one even to just maintain. Can your farm or other income streams support it?
2. Heavy footprint issues. Will it help you reclaim enough degraded land to recoup these? Perhaps you could consider a biodiesel, alcohol, or wood-gas powered engine.....
3. Assuming it does increase your productivity....are you ready to deal with that.....crop maintenance that the tractor can't help with, potential monoculture issues like increased pests, harvests, processing, marketing?
4. Do you like/can you endure being around machinery a lot? Smell, noise, etc. Do you like "tinkering".....
 
Zachary Morris
Posts: 28
Location: Southern Oregon, 6a/6b
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Alder Burns wrote:Loose thoughts....
1. It's a big expense to buy, and a significant one even to just maintain. Can your farm or other income streams support it?
2. Heavy footprint issues. Will it help you reclaim enough degraded land to recoup these? Perhaps you could consider a biodiesel, alcohol, or wood-gas powered engine.....
3. Assuming it does increase your productivity....are you ready to deal with that.....crop maintenance that the tractor can't help with, potential monoculture issues like increased pests, harvests, processing, marketing?
4. Do you like/can you endure being around machinery a lot? Smell, noise, etc. Do you like "tinkering".....


That covers my primary concerns off the top of my head pretty well, personally I'm not in a position to purchase one in the near future but I've considered one for the long term. One of my biggest fears is the gashes the tires would leave on any virgin area of my land. It's sandy loam and the neighboring cattle ranch just cut a perimeter road that that left track rips all over just the other side of the fence.

In addition they dumped a 60' juniper rootball and all in the middle of my cul de sac before installing the fence which is just a huge reminder of the damage potential of tractors in the hands of ignorant/inconsiderate people, novices, or even accidentally in the hands of well intentioned experienced equipment operators. The potential to do HUGE, sometimes irreparable damage is much greater with a tractor as opposed to a shovel or a pick.
 
David Livingston
steward
Posts: 3665
Location: Anjou ,France
176
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
How about a donkey or mule or two instead ? If it was a donkey maybe you could breed a replacement ?

David
 
Bob Anders
Posts: 45
Location: Shenandoah Valley, VA
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
What do you think you want the tractor to do?
Front end loader. They work good for gravel, topsoil, and mulch, but your not going to be able to dig unless you get a huge tractor.
3 point hitch. Bush hog, box blade, tiller, mower, ext.
Trailer. You are going to be limited to pulling about the same amount as a half ton pickup can safely unless it is flat land.

Ground pressure is very high with tractors. We have a 40 HP compact tractor (1500 Massey Ferguson). I think it's around 3,200 pounds. With standard tractor tires it will leave ruts unless the ground is very dry. We use a tire that looks more like a mud truck tire to lower the ground pressure, but your still looking at the same ground pressure as a pickup truck. Cost is about the same as a nice new truck.

An old riding lawn mower with out the deck and a tinny trailer is what we use the most. Cheap on gas, easy to fix, can find the used cheap, easy to haul in a pickup from place to place, and if you get stuck anything can pull it out.
 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
65
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Good question to be honestly asking yourself.
For me, in my humble experience, on 12 acres of mixed garden, orchard, pasture, woodlands, the answer is emphatically, NO!

When others ask me a similar question, my response is to first ask them, do you like tractors? If the answer is yes, then sure, get one. I have farming neighbors that love their tractors like they love their farm dog. It is identity, it is a hobby, it is the same thing as an ATV or a fishing boat. So if that is you, then a tractor is certainly for you. You will subsudize it like any hobby.

If you dont particularly love tractors, then to me it is an economic question. A basic comparison of cost vs benefit is the best way to decide if owning a tractor is a good decision for you. The economic equation, coupled with my general ethics against petroleum machinery, is what lead me to the decision to not own a tractor.

The initial cost of a good condition, mid 1970's tractor is not huge, and resale value is good. The expensive thing is, you get to become a tractor mechanic. Nobody can afford to hire out tractor work, and when you need your machine, you need it to be working well. So you can expect to spend days, weeks, whatever per year on maintainance and repair of a large, stinky and dangerous machine. Fluids and filters add up in cost. Parts may not be as simple as ordering from your local auto parts store. Repair time runs long for a unskilled mechanic. Tools to work on a large machine are expensive. You need a good place to store and work on your machine.

The benefits of owning a tractor definietly depend on what work you have to do, and what other equipment you have. A pickup truck is a huge asset, a multi purpose tool that can do a lot of what some would use a tractor for. Tractors are okay for lots of jobs, but not always the best. If you want to move earth, or dig dirt, excavating equipment does a vastly better job, quicker. I have found that occasionally paying a local guy that loves owning machinery, is very much cheaper than trying to own and maintain my own. That way, whatever the job, I can get the best possible tool. I can choose from backhoes, trackhoes, bobcat loaders, bulldozers, large field tractors, etc. Rarely is one tool best for multiple jobs. So long as I limit my annual machinery needs, the economics work out very well compared to owning. Plus, I get a much more skilled operator on the machine than myself, so the jobs typically get done better than I could on a multi purpose tractor.

Making money by owning equipment really depends on how good you are at fixing and maintaining your equipment. Guys I know that run machinery for money spend a lot of highly skilled time in the shop, greasing and repairing their equipment. None of them net a whole lot, but they do love working on machines.

As for the suggestion of animal power, no disrespect intended at all, but that is one seriously skilled endeavor. Not something you can just jump into. It is an honorable skill and a noble art, but if you just go buy a donkey and a plow, there are going to be some real comedy scenes at first. And potential injury, which you should never underestimate how expensive that is!

Hope those thought help to give some structure to your dilemma. Your body is by far the most valuable, versatile, and useful tool you will ever find. Treat it well, use it wisely. Reap as you sow.
Good luck!
 
Zachary Morris
Posts: 28
Location: Southern Oregon, 6a/6b
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Bob Anders wrote:What do you think you want the tractor to do?


An old riding lawn mower with out the deck and a tinny trailer is what we use the most. Cheap on gas, easy to fix, can find the used cheap, easy to haul in a pickup from place to place, and if you get stuck anything can pull it out.


Bob that last bit is what I have right now, unfortunately I have two flat tires and am unable to remove the wheels in order to put new ones on. You happen to have experience with this? You mentioned easy to fix and seem to imply you might have some expertise of this nature.
 
Zachary Morris
Posts: 28
Location: Southern Oregon, 6a/6b
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Adam Klaus wrote:Good question to be honestly asking yourself.
For me, in my humble experience, on 12 acres of mixed garden, orchard, pasture, woodlands, the answer is emphatically, NO!

When others ask me a similar question, my response is to first ask them, do you like tractors? If the answer is yes, then sure, get one. I have farming neighbors that love their tractors like they love their farm dog. It is identity, it is a hobby, it is the same thing as an ATV or a fishing boat. So if that is you, then a tractor is certainly for you. You will subsudize it like any hobby.

If you dont particularly love tractors, then to me it is an economic question. A basic comparison of cost vs benefit is the best way to decide if owning a tractor is a good decision for you. The economic equation, coupled with my general ethics against petroleum machinery, is what lead me to the decision to not own a tractor.

The initial cost of a good condition, mid 1970's tractor is not huge, and resale value is good. The expensive thing is, you get to become a tractor mechanic. Nobody can afford to hire out tractor work, and when you need your machine, you need it to be working well. So you can expect to spend days, weeks, whatever per year on maintainance and repair of a large, stinky and dangerous machine. Fluids and filters add up in cost. Parts may not be as simple as ordering from your local auto parts store. Repair time runs long for a unskilled mechanic. Tools to work on a large machine are expensive. You need a good place to store and work on your machine.

The benefits of owning a tractor definietly depend on what work you have to do, and what other equipment you have. A pickup truck is a huge asset, a multi purpose tool that can do a lot of what some would use a tractor for. Tractors are okay for lots of jobs, but not always the best. If you want to move earth, or dig dirt, excavating equipment does a vastly better job, quicker. I have found that occasionally paying a local guy that loves owning machinery, is very much cheaper than trying to own and maintain my own. That way, whatever the job, I can get the best possible tool. I can choose from backhoes, trackhoes, bobcat loaders, bulldozers, large field tractors, etc. Rarely is one tool best for multiple jobs. So long as I limit my annual machinery needs, the economics work out very well compared to owning. Plus, I get a much more skilled operator on the machine than myself, so the jobs typically get done better than I could on a multi purpose tractor.

Making money by owning equipment really depends on how good you are at fixing and maintaining your equipment. Guys I know that run machinery for money spend a lot of highly skilled time in the shop, greasing and repairing their equipment. None of them net a whole lot, but they do love working on machines.

As for the suggestion of animal power, no disrespect intended at all, but that is one seriously skilled endeavor. Not something you can just jump into. It is an honorable skill and a noble art, but if you just go buy a donkey and a plow, there are going to be some real comedy scenes at first. And potential injury, which you should never underestimate how expensive that is!

Hope those thought help to give some structure to your dilemma. Your body is by far the most valuable, versatile, and useful tool you will ever find. Treat it well, use it wisely. Reap as you sow.
Good luck!


Very informative perspective!

The emboldened areas are the ones I agree with or relate to above and beyond the rest. Personally I don't think I could ever justify anything beyond a garden tractor.
 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
65
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
hi zachary,
funny thing is, you put the bold exactly where I would have as well! good job sorting through all my blabbering to get to the goods.

I should add, the one mechanized tool I have is a 10hp, walk behind BCS tractor. It has a rotary plow, and a flail mower for attachments. I have used it for 6 years now, and I see it as a short term solution on my farm. When I bought it, I told my wife, this is the only mechanized tool we need here, and by the time it dies, I will not need to replace it. I still believe this to be the case.

The roatary plow is used to get the soil in our 1/2 acre market garden into workable condition. Look it up, it is an excellent implament for soil conditioning with many fewer drawbacks than a rototiller. At this point, I use it in the fall only, after the garden is finished for the season, when the soil is totally dry. All cultivation spring and summer is done by hand, with a wheel hoe or a colinear hoe. Within a few more years it will not be needed at all.

The flail mower is for our 1 1/2 acre orchard. The trees are too small to be grazed appropriately. I have tried many different strategies with sheep, calves, cows, etc. Electric fence wire, electric fence netting, metal wire tree cages, animals on teathers, etc. Killed a lot of little trees. Decided mowing for the first five years until the trees are large enough would be a good solution. The flail mower handles rocks well, and chops up the grass resulting in much more compost and less coasre mulch. I mow three times per season, June, July and September. Still on track to be using animals exclusively within a few years.

I'll leave it at that, but do feel free to ask any questions, I am glad to help.
cheers-
 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
those walk behind tractors are sweet, wish i had known about them when i had the ranch.


I think there is one type of ATV quad that has a PTO. It would have been nice to have a postholer. I dont enjoy digging holes.

We used the quad and a small trailer a lot.
 
Bob Anders
Posts: 45
Location: Shenandoah Valley, VA
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I would love one of the walk behind Gravel's like my grand father had. I would go out and buy one today if I could find one with a blade, tiller, bush hog, dual tire adapter, and the tipping trailer. This would bridge the gap between the tractor and the riding lawnmower.

Zachary Morris wrote:
Bob Anders wrote:What do you think you want the tractor to do?

An old riding lawn mower with out the deck and a tinny trailer is what we use the most. Cheap on gas, easy to fix, can find the used cheap, easy to haul in a pickup from place to place, and if you get stuck anything can pull it out.


Bob that last bit is what I have right now, unfortunately I have two flat tires and am unable to remove the wheels in order to put new ones on. You happen to have experience with this? You mentioned easy to fix and seem to imply you might have some expertise of this nature.


Different years and manufacturer different ways the rims attach. Front tires are normally remove a cotter and then a nut or a washer. A lot of times the back tires have a castle nut with a cotter pin or some type of a C clip with a nut behind it. The rear axle will have a key or will be oval shaped to keep the back tire from spinning on the axle. If you do pull off the rims make sure you get the bearings back in right.

If it is a back axle I don’t remove the rim from the tractor. Put it on a set of jack stands. Use a set of wheel spoons to remove the tire with some lube (50/50 dish soap and water). Clean the edge of the rim with more lube and put the new tire on. Use a ratchet strap in the center of the tread to help set the beads to the side walls, inflate part way , take off the ratchet strap, and inflate (most of the time it's 12 psi).

If it's a front axle I will take of the rim, but I need a second set of hands to hold it still. I think most of them are 8 PSI.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3357
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
32
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
In a true permaculture foodforest farm, NO. Rent or hire proper excavating equipment for mainframe earthworks and the rest is easy.

But the reality is once you have one you will do lots of little projects you never would have done without it. So it is a really useful WANT.
 
Pete Baron
Posts: 14
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I personally could not live without my tractors at this time but I have over 300 acres. Yes, they are smelly, noisy and dangerous and I would love to eventually replace them with horses and oxen but it will take time and also, it is difficult and time-consuming to do heavy draft work like plowing with animals. You can plow an acre a day with a team of horses and a bit less with oxen. I have considered phasing in draft animals for jobs that do not need as much power such as haying, seeding and cultivating and keeping the tractors for plowing and disking.
 
andrew curr
Posts: 288
Location: Deepwater northern New South wales Australia
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Allen Savoury once said the biggest piece of machinery you need on a farm is a wheelbarrow,and that is onley if you like machinery
Saying that i just bought a 115 hp FEL that needs almost 10000 spending on it,otherwise i would spend that $$ paying tax
I will use the machine to turn compost,lug rocks for gabions,tow a scraper for earthworks,rip treelines and i might do some contour ploughing
 
Kelly Smith
Posts: 715
Location: In a rain shadow - Fremont County, Southern CO
17
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
to me, i think you have to look at how often you will NEED to use a tractor.
it may be possible to work something out with a local rental yard where they give you a discount, if you rent it for one weekend a month or something. that way you can get the benefits, without the costs, but the trade off is you have to wait/schedule some of your work.

with that said, everyone i have talked to says they have found tons of things to do with their tractors once they got them home, things they didnt even think of before owning a tractor.


we opted for an old ford 9n. needs some work, but we only mainly plan to use it for moving large hay bales and bringing in hay. hope to be able to sell it if we ever get to where we are hayless.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
289
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Most tractors do not actually cost you much in the long run.

If you look at used tractors today, you will find that most are selling for more than they did when they were new.
For example, a Ford 8N sold new in 1952 for $1404.
If you can find one for that price today, it is probably trashed!
Most of them in decent shape go for over $2,000.

As long as you maintain it in good order, you should be able to sell it for what you paid, years ago.
You only 'lose' part of the inflation.

 
Brian Mallak
Posts: 16
Location: Central NY
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am using a large (800cc) ATV. Use it to haul water to the critters (3 5gal buckets) once a day, pull a 170lbs 5/8 chain harrow, pull out old junk, trees for fire wood.
Someday will I buy (likely rent) a tractor and all the implements? Probably.
but I am getting along just fine with the ATV.
 
Jay Hayes
Posts: 64
Location: Missouri
16
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think this is a great question. I have always had a few tractors at my disposal, and I recently purchased another. Like John said, depending on what you get you can spend a ton, or a pittance on the machine and maintenance if you are gentle and don't run it all the time. My largest machine is a 60hp, and even with a little guy like that I have small acreage neighbors ask for a bit of tractor help on a regular basis, it seems like sharing makes more sense than having a bunch of neighbors have to buy tractors. That said, I think there is a sweet spot on the # of acres/projects one has that makes the decision on a large machine purchase make sense. Kind of like Wheatons' track hoe purchase. It is pretty cheap to get general grading/brush hog/haying work contracted by folks who are trying to pay off expensive machines, they are usually better equipment operators than I am too. The guy who bales my hay just dropped 60k on a baler...CRAZY!

That said, does anyone own one of these? It is a gravely walk behind in case the link gets pulled.

http://columbiamo.craigslist.org/grd/4000181997.html

This one is $3200 with a tons of implements. In my opinion that is stupid expensive, but for the right person it is likely well worth the price. I have used a unit like this in the past and once you get over the terrifying nature of old machines that lack all safety guards and a slip clutch on the pto they are pretty amazing small scale wonders.

Has anyone used the cultivator or the sickle mower attachments? How did they do? I have Used the brush-hog and the tiller and was very impressed.

I know that a very select series of post WWII Willie Jeeps came with a PTO and implements as the company attempted to market into a non-war economy. If someone has one of those I would love to see some pictures.

J
 
R Scott
Posts: 3357
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
32
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I looked at that very ad!

I am getting desperate to find a walk-behind sickle mower (but not three grand desperate yet). A walk-behind sickle is AWESOME for cleaning up small brush and tall grass in area you just can't get to with a bigger tractor. Pretty good for harvesting a decent plot of grain (bigger than you want to scythe but too small for a tractor). Or to mow boggy ground (very little compaction vs. a tractor).

I had a neighbor growing up that had a Willie's with a PTO. He used it for lots of little jobs like running water pumps, augers and elevators, etc. It couldn't do any real fieldwork like they advertised, but it was handy--he didn't have to leave a tractor everywhere or have a little briggs engine on every piece of equipment.

 
Jay Hayes
Posts: 64
Location: Missouri
16
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
R-

I never thought of using the little sickle to harvest grains. That is genius. It would be a pretty slick way to cut hay on a small acreage if one were hand making bales or using loose hay stacks too.

I really do think an old gravely would be a great way to go on many farms, or even a shared investment on adjacent small properties. The cast iron engine blocks last forever and the implements are just powerful enough to save a lot of back ache. That said, I would have to be pretty damn desperate to drop 3k on one.

Good luck in the search. If I hear of anything in my neck of the woods I'll give you a shout.

J
 
Kdan Horton
Posts: 34
Location: North West Georgia
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I like that Gravely, but $3200? Holy Moly. This summer I bought an old David Bradley and a new motor for it for about $400. I'm still questing for the sickle attachment and a plow blade, but it has a turning plow and a potato plow. It's awesome. I've already used it to cut a ditch on my mostly vertical road in to keep the water from washing all my gravel to the bottom. Again.

I put a 6hp motor on it, which is an upgrade from the original 5hp and the darn thing is geared to climb trees. I can pull logs around, unstick a truck and use it to cut swales on my acre & a half field with standing water problems. I think I can run my 25 acres with this and my 2 little garden tractors. I still lust for a bigger tractor, and we'll probably get one one day, if for no other reason than I need another motor to dork with.

Halftractor.jpg
[Thumbnail for Halftractor.jpg]
HalfTractor
 
Jay Hayes
Posts: 64
Location: Missouri
16
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Kdan,

I had never heard of the David Bradley machine until I started googling the walk behind tractors because of this post. They honestly look far more capable than the Gravely, there are also a bunch on ebay for 500 bucks. It is great to hear a review of one. My experience with the Gravely's axel gearing was very similar, but it had turf style tires and was likely less apt for pulling/plowing. I recall being a bit worried about using the tiller attachment because the attachment gearing was so aggressive that when breaking rocky ground it would huck rocks for 50+ feet in very unpredictable directions.

What caused you to upgrade the motor on yours? Are the old motors on the DB's easy to get a rebuild kit for? I really like the look of the old motors, but slipping on a cheap, modern, Briggs would certainly have its perks. Were you able to run the machine with the old motor? I was guessing that your new engine would be to light to keep good traction on the tires, did you add any extra weights or was this not an issue?

Thanks for the post, any additional information about the machine and or the attachments you have used would be appreciated. I have nearly zero need for one of these and now I want one is the work kind of way. Would you mind posting a few extra pics of how you mounted the new motor? The best I can tell the belt drive should have been a really simple conversion for you, was this the case?

Thanks

J
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
289
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Gravely hasn't manufactured the walk behind tractors for many years. It seems that in the U.S., everybody is now making single purpose machines. In Europe, there are several dozen companies making walk behind tractors. "Small holdings", on irregular ground makes them very practical there. The European market supplies attachments for them including almost everything you would attach to a 'real' tractor.

BCS, and Grillo (both from Italy) are the most commonly available here in the U.S. Between them, there are so many attachments available that you could easily spend as much/more than on a conventional tractor. On certain plots though, they could be much more useful than their big brothers.

If anybody is looking for used tractors on Craig's List, here is a great resource. For each Make/Model you see an ad, you can click here, and find full specifications. Know what you are getting (without just the seller's assurance that it's a great machine).
http://www.tractordata.com/farm-tractors/

 
R Scott
Posts: 3357
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
32
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Kdan Horton wrote:I like that Gravely, but $3200? Holy Moly. This summer I bought an old David Bradley and a new motor for it for about $400.



Was a simple change to the new motor, or was there a bunch of work to make it fit? I too have seen old DB's w/o motors for a good price.
 
Kdan Horton
Posts: 34
Location: North West Georgia
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The David Bradley's are so easy to work on, it's ridiculous. I completely stripped it down and oiled/greased/cleaned every nut & bolt and put it all back together in an afternoon. Even scored some replacement parts I was worried would eventually cause issues, on Ebay.
The original 60 year old 5hp Briggs & Stratton that it came with was knocking something fierce. It ran, but I found a 6hp Predator engine at Harbor freight for $100. Being the epitome of skepticism that I am, I replaced the fuel line and the spark plug anyway, as that is usually the point of initial failure with these kinds of motors. I also picked up a new 2&1/2 inch pulley, because I couldn't get the old one off the old motor. After I got home got the new motor & pulley on and I was running it around the neighborhood within 1/2 an hour. It dropped right onto the frame and the holes matched from the old motor and the pulley tension was spot on.
The weight between the two motors was negligible and besides, I have wheel weights on the wheels that you can take off and put on the handlebars for leverage with a plow or the bush hog attachment.
I also have two small lawn type tractors that I got one for free and one for really cheap, granted they needed a little rebuilding, but the John Deere cuts the stupid grass that I acquired with the place and the other one, a Murray, is heavily modified to pull a little trailer for hauling tools and such. I do spend an inordinate amount of time on Craigs List, but it's paying off.
 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 478
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
How about approaching a next door neighbour who has one, and offer to rent it and/or him when you actually need to use one?
You'd get an awful lot of use for the same price as and old second hand machine, and you don't have the headaches / expense of keeping it operational, storing it, blah blah blah.
 
Donald Endsley
Posts: 1
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Adam Klaus wrote:As for the suggestion of animal power, no disrespect intended at all, but that is one seriously skilled endeavor. Not something you can just jump into. It is an honorable skill and a noble art, but if you just go buy a donkey and a plow, there are going to be some real comedy scenes at first. And potential injury, which you should never underestimate how expensive that is!

Hope those thought help to give some structure to your dilemma. Your body is by far the most valuable, versatile, and useful tool you will ever find. Treat it well, use it wisely. Reap as you sow.
Good luck!


It is a skilled endeavor, but like farming it is a skill that can be learned. However injury to you or your animals is a real risk. My Father was teaching our stallion how to drive, while paired with our mare got thrown from the forecart when the stallion spooked and he could not bring it under control quick enough. I arrived home just after that happened to find my father wondering around the field a bit confused from the concussion he got, looking for the horses. I found the horses wrecked and scared near a tree line. It took me a good thirty minutes to free them. Fortunately they had only minor injuries, but it could have been much worse.

Also Horses ain't cheap. We spend more on our horses than we do on our tractor every year.

I'm not saying don't do animal powered farming, but if you do, do it for reasons other than economic reasoning. If you enjoy working with your animals it is a great way to spend time with them, and with proper management do have positive impacts on your farm.
 
M Foti
Posts: 171
Location: western n.c.
5
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Lots of folks are condemning tractors based on their carbon footprint... How do they mow their grass? When we first got started we mowed our whole farm with 2 homeowner grade riding lawn mowers. I spent about 30 dollars per week on gas, that was one mowing of just the blueberry fields and sometimes the yard. If I had to mow the other areas it was a little more. Even a low grade new mower is going to cost about a thousand bucks.

I got our first tractor, a Kubota L175 1979 model for $1300 dollars including a scrape blade, it's ugly, but it will never be sold unless it dies and is not economical to fix it. I can mow for exactly 1/10th of the fuel usage and spend half the time doing it. Maintenance is FAR less than on a riding mower. It costs more initially, but things don't break constantly. We have a 30 acre farm here, so eventually the kubota just wasn't enough to handle all the chores that needed doing. So, for $2500 dollars, less than the cost of a mid-range riding lawn mower, I got a 65 h.p. massey ferguson. It too uses so much less fuel than a riding lawn mower that it is ridiculous and with a differential lock and agricultural tires, will do just about anything I ask of it. Now, yes, it does make ruts, so that is where the Kubota still shines, it is 1800 lbs and has turf tires on it. The turf tires can be a pain, but are very low impact, however they will lose traction on steep hills or if trying to pull a plow.

If you farm an area that is steep, 4x4 is the only way to go if you decide to get a tractor, even then you may want to rent one first and make sure you can handle it on the terrain... A tractor that loses traction and goes sliding down a hill is NOT a fun ride, not at all. They can flip over very easily if driven sideways on a hill, and one thing to always remember, tractors only have brakes on the rear tires, not on all 4 like a car... They do not like to stop as quickly as you are used to stopping in a car or on an atv.

As mentioned the walking tractors are a decent compromise, however the fancier ones are ridiculously priced, you can get a 4x4 tractor with a front end loader for what a new BCS costs. I had a BCS, one little part broke, since it was metric, FORGET about even making a part out of something else to fit it. You just have to accept that you have to order the parts off of the internet and wait. Other than that, it was a surprisingly well made and well thought out machine, even down to the steel cable instead of a rope for the pull starter... Fine little machine IF your machine isn't absolutely vital to what you do. If your machine is vital to what you do, what happens when it breaks? How quickly can parts come? Those are things you need to find out. Lastly regarding walking tractors... Implements. BCS implements cost more than my little Kubota cost. If you luck out and find some on the used market they're comparable to big tractor implements though, so that's not too terrible... If you get one, make sure you can get affordable implements for it...

Lets get to "need"... what do you do that a tractor would help with? Can you rent a tractor with proper farming implements in your area? Do you have a friend with a tractor that you can pay to come and do those jobs? My Kubota is pretty much just an overgrown (yet incredibly efficient) lawn mower, but is capable of bush hogging, driveway scraping, running generators and other light duty PTO implements. It runs a 4 ft. bush hog well and a 5 ft. finish mower with minimal effort. The 65 horspower Massey will do basically anything that can be done with a tractor and I have a 6 ft. bush hog with it, as well as a very large plow, harrows, pto tiller. For everything else, it shares the same light duty implements that the Kubota uses. For us, renting a "farm tractor" wasn't an option in our area, after placing numerous ads offering to pay ridiculously high prices for plowing, no one would show up, so we just bit the bullet and that's when I found the massey. I do not use the massey every week, it stays parked quite a bit, but when we do need it, it is there and it does what I need then gets parked again. We only row crop sorghum, we are transitioning to a 'no till' operation, but still need the tractors to pull the no till planters around, no way we could hand plant sorghum seeds in 5 acres every 4-6 inches at 36 inch row width and to go to a no till system, you still have to prepare the ground for this. When I'm not using the massey for myself, I'm the local guy everyone calls to come do their tractor work, so in just one summer the massey has paid for itself and it's implements as well as provide us with a decent little extra income that anyone starting out in farming desperately needs. I would assume that we are the rarity on these forums though, most of you probably do not "need" a tractor, especially a big one. This is where you really need to just sit down and think about exactly what it is that a tractor will do. Can you work the tractor for extra money in your area? These answers will help decide for you. If you think you need a tractor to keep a 1/2 acre garden tilled twice a year, you might be better off with a really nice tiller and leave it at that. There are hidden costs to owning a tractor, one is how are you going to move it from point a to point b? If you want to pick up some extra work to help offset the cost, you're going to need a truck and a trailer capable of towing it. Hydraulic fluid is VERY expensive, if your tractor has leaks, those leaks are money and pollutants pouring out on the ground. Tractor tires are pricey, rims are ridiculous. Tractor rims tend to get rusty if they're old, having to replace 4 tires and rims can cost more than the whole tractor did.

Finally, we got our tractors at ridiculous prices, $1300 for the Kubota, it is 18 horsepower but since it's diesel that 18 horsepower is PLENTY for almost anything except plowing and the only reason it will not plow is due to traction and weight, not specifically lack of power. The Massey cost us $2500 dollars. Both of these tractors are old tractors, but if you know machines and bide your time, you can find very good deals but you have to make sure that you know what you're buying and that you can fix things that break yourself. Tractor repair shops generally charge about $150 per hour, that can get expensive quick.

Someone mentioned you being able to handle the increased production a tractor can make possible. That is a very good point. Say you want a tractor to open up a bunch of new ground and turn your large garden into a real small farming operation. Is this going to cause a spiral effect? Meaning, you buy a tractor to increase output. The increased output means you have to put in better storage and processing facilities. Being able to produce and process more "x" means now you have to get a big truck to transport all this produce. All the extra produce means you now have to hire help to harvest and process... Will you be better off? Or was your large garden producing the same end result in income. I think this is where alot of farmers get messed up, they'll go into debt to scale up their operations, yet even though they're producing more product, their net profit is the same and they cannot afford all the new debt....

Either way, that question has alot of variables, this is just my personal experiences and I hope they help someone!

 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
65
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
M Foti wrote:
Someone mentioned you being able to handle the increased production a tractor can make possible. That is a very good point. Say you want a tractor to open up a bunch of new ground and turn your large garden into a real small farming operation. Is this going to cause a spiral effect? Meaning, you buy a tractor to increase output. The increased output means you have to put in better storage and processing facilities. Being able to produce and process more "x" means now you have to get a big truck to transport all this produce. All the extra produce means you now have to hire help to harvest and process... Will you be better off? Or was your large garden producing the same end result in income. I think this is where alot of farmers get messed up, they'll go into debt to scale up their operations, yet even though they're producing more product, their net profit is the same and they cannot afford all the new debt....


+1 on this. The most important number is the net income, divided by the labor input. More is often less. I see many young farmers grow beyond their best interests, get exhausted and indebted, and burn out for good. There are always retailers cheerleading your growth, other farmers condescending your scale, and customers wanting more products. Run the numbers, stay true to your aim, know your limitations.

Farm smart.
 
ben harpo
Posts: 76
Location: Illinois, zone 6b
3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELQgEa_JXJQ

I chose a 60 year old Ferguson 30 tractor. Because it was very affordable and high quality. In my area I can find almost any old tractor implement for twice its scrap value!. I looked at BCS walking tractors, but I would not have saved any money, and walking tractors feel like work. Riding tractors are fun. It is a thousand times easier to do maintenance on a tractor than an automobile. But, people should probably not do what I did unless they have lots of mechanical experience.

Draft animals and electric tractors interest me as long term solutions for a small farm. But, I couldn't afford to buy that stuff or build it right now.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3357
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
32
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
That Ferguson ad was worth it just for the jack stand!!! I am going to have to build me one of those.
 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1095
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
45
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Necessity at what level?

Our tractors are not a luxury in that we use them for work. They leverage us and pay for themselves many times over. They are tools.

Our tractors are not a necessity in that in a Shit Hit the Fan Scenario we would go on living without tractors (or I might make diesel and replacement parts). I fab.

With our tractors we do some things we simply would not even attempt if we didn't have tractors.

With our tractors we do many thing faster that we would have to do even if we didn't have the tractors.

With our tractors we do things that otherwise we would have to hire out at a cost greater than owning our tractors. This is why we bought a tractor - we needed to put in a new water line and the bid was $15,000 to have it done. The down payment on the tractor was $5,000 with 0%/60month financing and they gave us a $15,000 discount - I took my time negotiating.

Our tractors do some things that are critical to making our farm work like delivering big round bales of hay, plowing deep snows in the winter for the milk truck, building roads, composting 1,700 lb boars (If you can't move the boar, e.g., in a tractor inaccessible location, you build a compost pile where he is and lose easy access to those nutrients so moving him is good).

So our tractors fall somewhere between absolute necessity and luxury. I do like having them because they leverage us. We get more done with fewer people so our family is able to do all the work on our farm rather than having to hire strangers. I like keeping things family based.

So as long as the Shit Doesn't Hit the Fan Scenario continues I'll use tractors for the things they make easier.

My tractor has a big butt because I don't like rolling sideways down the mountain:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2013/12/05/moving-bathroom-marble/
 
Ann Torrence
steward
Posts: 1191
Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
111
bee books chicken duck goat trees
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I teach photography. When my students ask what gear they should buy, I ask what pictures they want to make that they can't do now with the gear they have. It's the same with any tool. When we started, one of our trusted advisors told us to buy a huge tractor. We made it through our first two years without owning a 4x4 tractor by: getting a 2-wheeler for mowing and rotary plowing, hiring a guy to auger tree holes, another guy to dig swales, yet another guy to move gravel to each tree*. And borrowing a neighbor's tractor to move more gravel. Finding the 3 different guys was a PITA, people are hard to find for small jobs around here.

If we can get guy #1 to auger 500 more holes this spring, we won't buy anything this year. Which gives some budgetary breathing room and time to really ponder what we will need when we start pressing juice.
Jobs we will need to do in the future: augering**, lifting and moving apple bins and IBCs, moving gravel, compost, mulch, spraying Michael Phillips holistic sprays for spring and possibly Surround (kaolin) for codling moths. I can hire in earthworking guys but not for those ongoing jobs. Might get an ATV to pull a flail mower, move loads between the two parcels (the main orchard is a few hundred yards up a gravel road), and there's a small spray unit available. DH is going to get tired of wrestling the Grillo eventually, and won't trust anyone else to take a sicklebar into the orchard. Sheep would be better in some respects, but you don't have to fence, feed and water an ATV every day, which is why farmers wanted tractors to begin with. Sheep->dog to move sheep between parcels->dog training->finding, buying and storing winter hay (in small bales only or we would need a tractor to move hay!)->winter shelter->more manure management->it is easy for us to get spread too thin.

We may end up with an ATV and a skidsteer with a bucket and PTO, if I can find a spray unit that runs off that style PTO. I like the idea of the track instead of wheels to distribute the weight, narrower paths because of the narrower base and short turning radius, and the forklift. If I hadn't listed out the functions needed, it would not even have occurred as an option.

*Michael Phillips' vole and pest management technique is a deep circle of pea gravel around each tree. Makes it easier to mow the alfalfa too.
**we are convinced that the 4' deep holes we had augered are pushing our apple taproots down very fast to our relatively high summer water table, key part of our strategy to protect them from drought. The main irrigation canal was at a trickle in June, and then when the monsoons came, washed out twice this summer. We still got 100 new trees through their first summer, deep watering every 11 days. Same advisor said "make the trees chase the water," best advice we've gotten.
 
ben harpo
Posts: 76
Location: Illinois, zone 6b
3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If you want a 2 wheel tractor, an ATV, and a skidsteer, then go for it. But I believe you could have all those capabilities in one tractor on a much smaller budget.

When TSHTF I'm prepared to live without my tractor. But I'll go without my car first. Which is easier 1) turning over an acre of sod with a hoe, or 2) riding a bike 30 miles?
 
Jeff Williams
Posts: 10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hello everyone

I am building an 18 acre market garden farm from scratch. And I have never farmed or gardened until this past spring, 2015. I bought a Hoss Wheel Hoe to teach myself about gardening. I like it a lot for a small half acre or less garden. However my plan is to build over time to 3 acres of 50' long raised beds and about 10 acres of orchard and pasture. I've been looking for a john Deere 850 or comparable tractor. But then I stumbled across the BCS tractor with its multitude of attachments. Since I have about 3 acres in wetland plus a quarter acre pond I want a brush hog. I've been renting one and know I will get good use out of the BCS with brush hog. The plus is I can use it to mow the lawn as well.

I am handy with a wrench and would really like to have a front end loader. I know I will use it but can't say why until I need it. However I am not wedded to the idea of a tractor. I think a BCS would be adequate and very cost effectivef for my needs as listed here: mowing, brush hogging, building /maintaining raised beds, tilling. I know with a tractor I can find and buy any implement I might ever conceivably need. But like everyone has said a tractor is a commitment.

On the other hand how do I use a compact or sub-compact tractor to build and maintain short raised beds? I clearly see how the BCS rotary plow would build beds and how the tiller would assist in maintaining them. What about a tractor? I just don't know enough about using a tractor to make a comparison between a tractor and a BCS.

I need to buy something in preparation for spring. I'll listen to all ideas and advice. Let me know.

Any suggestions?
 
R Scott
Posts: 3357
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
32
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Google row hipper or row hiller. A simple three point attachment that can build raised beds. I built one for a couple hundred bucks from an old Ferguson cultivator and new hiller discs from agrisupply.com. I think I put a picture here on the forum but I can't find it now.

I use it on my JD 955. My procedure for making new beds is to run the subsoiler down what will be the middle of the bed, then put any deep soil amendments in that trench, then till the wheel paths to loosen it up if needed, then use the hiller to form the beds. It may take a couple passes to establish the beds initially, but then a single pass every year or two will reset the beds. I try to use mulch in the paths that will compost and be the amendment so it gets added in that reforming pass.

A loader is extremely useful for making a lot of compost and a million other things around the farm. But lots of people do amazing work without them.
 
Evan Mainwaring
Posts: 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We have several tractors (a hobby now held over from traditional farming) and tend to get the most reliable use out of our 50/60's era gasoline Deere tractors. The most trouble comes from the diesel machines with higher hours(what is typically seen as affordable), in fact every one of our diesel tractors is layed up right now. The bobcat is temperamental on its best days. However, the most useful machine on our property is our kawasaki mule, used every day and is a plain and simple labor multiplier. This is what I suggest most people start with unless they need a PTO for other tasks. By the most well maintained machine that is suitable for your needs or put the money down for a new Kubota.
 
Francesco Delvillani
Posts: 66
Location: Italy
forest garden trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
In my opinion depends of what you grow...i mean, if you have Mais I think you need it....but if you have (with the same grown area) a field of Apple trees you can do even without tractor....
 
Ann Torrence
steward
Posts: 1191
Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
111
bee books chicken duck goat trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Jeff Williams wrote:Hello everyone

I am building an 18 acre market garden farm from scratch... I've been looking for a john Deere 850 or comparable tractor. But then I stumbled across the BCS tractor with its multitude of attachments. Since I have about 3 acres in wetland plus a quarter acre pond I want a brush hog. I've been renting one and know I will get good use out of the BCS with brush hog. The plus is I can use it to mow the lawn as well.


We own the BCS rotary plow. It is a beast. How fit are you? You won't need a gym membership, that's for sure. It doesn't really work for the job we wanted it to do (cutting irrigation trenches to our trees) and we are about done with the ground-breaking that it does do well on. So I might sell it at some point. That's the good thing about BCS, it holds its value.

We also own the 5' sickle bar cutter. We bought it to mow the orchard. It works well in areas that are hard to mow, like ditch margins. For straight up and down mowing of the orchard and the rest of our place, we bought a heavy duty garden tractor (since I wrote my response a year ago, and after seeing Stefan's video The Permaculture Orchard), because I wanted my husband back. He's only here on weekends. I'm a tough, strong person, but I can't manhandle the 2 wheeler and I don't want to chop down my trees. With the garden tractor, I can mow the orchard during the week in 1/4 the time it took him to do with the BCS. I got sick of him spending all "our" time mowing and dead tired afterwards on a Sisyphean task. I can't imagine that the brush hog has a faster working speed. I figured he spent a couple hours per acre for mowing. If I had 18 acres, that alone would lead me toward a small 4 wheel tractor from the start.

Find out who your local dealers are and what implements they have in rental. We could rent about anything but an auger if we had a tractor and wanted to make the 3 hour round trip to the closest tractor dealer.
 
Ryan Ramsay
Posts: 5
Location: Willamette Valley
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Never thought of myself as a tractor guy. Used one this year to help convert ungrazed pasture into crop fields and move holy sh*ttons of mulch. Mow, till, chisel, WOW. Incredible amounts of time and labor saved (even on my measly acre). I suspect we are done with the big tractor now - possibly forever. The best part is that it is included in our land lease - I'm not sure it is something I would own for myself. I'll be a BCS/broadfork man until the day I die but it has been very nice having a big 35hp diesel JD around this season to get things started. See if you can borrow or rent your neighbor's =)
 
Screaming fools! It's nothing more than a tiny ad:
Video of all the permaculture design course and appropriate technology course (about 177 hours)
https://permies.com/wiki/65386/paul-wheaton/digital-market/Video-PDC-ATC-hours-HD
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!