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How much tractor do you really need?  RSS feed

 
laurie branson
Posts: 40
Location: SW Washington. zone 8a
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We have gone back and forth on the actual need for one over the last two years. Since we are fifty’ish and just starting out on farming, we finally decided we did in fact need/want a tractor especially for the next couple of years with all of the heavy lifting and digging that needs to be done up front to build our 24 acre permaculture farm from scratch. Digging and lifting is super hard on our backs.

We took Geoff's online PDC to help us design the farm. So far we have put in a 300’ long swale/food forest, two 100’ long hugels and a small pond - that was using a trackhoe and a skid steer we had access to while the curtain drain and site leveling were being completed for our barn (and eventually our house).
We have several acres of pasture we will be converting to market gardens including broad acre crops (like those at Zaytuna Farm), we want to put in more swales/food forests and more ponds.
Half of the property is a woodlot and we will be selectively harvesting and replanting trees for fuel, construction, etc…

So far our research leads us to think we need a machine with at least 28 - 35 hp with a loader and a backhoe attachment so we can [slowly, but surely] dig the swales, ditch for the well line, move soil (from the site leveling), move mountains of compost (we've been building over the past year), etc… ourselves. We are also considering other attachments like a mower\scythe, brush hog, and the debate still rages on about a tiller - just for initial preparation of planting areas - no intention of doing it annually and if our PDC design plays out as planned, we won’t need or want to. We are also concerned about the weight of the tractor as in the two comparable models hp wise we are looking at – there is considerable weight difference.

Our soils are clay loam and rated as “prime farmland”, and we get 57” of rain annually (most of it over the 9 months of fall/winter/spring and then no rain for 3 months of summer). The property is also on a 5%-8% slope. So weight of the tractor is also of concern. We want to be very careful of compaction.

Any guidance here would be greatly appreciated! Thanks
 
Cortland Satsuma
Posts: 319
Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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We just bought our tractor last week; delivered today. A lot of thought over a couple years went into the decision. We first determined the MAXIMUM scope of all possible future projects on this acreage. We then determined the type and size of all possible attachments we would need for said projects. We then looked at the PTO required for these attachments sizes. That gave us the HP needed for the tractor. (4x4, is a given.) Weight was less of a concern to us than width. We want to get in between trees in the forest without knocking everything down. The lawn tractor class (up to 28hp) are all too light for the work we are doing, so they were all ruled out, despite their compact size. We then researched all tractor brands and narrowed it down to three we wanted. We then looked at the types of tires available; as, we too, have clay soft spots and our neighbors tractor left major tracks in areas. The right tires make all the difference. Once you know what you must have; only shop for that; looking at the almost works group is not a good plan...they are for sale (and cheaper) for very good reasons...do not buy someone elses mistake! You will be using your tractor the rest of your life; make sure you buy one that is up for the task. If this means buying needed attachments as you can afford to; we see this as the best plan. Our tractor was from a dealer's lot; their attachments are way over priced, so we are still shopping for additional attachments; already know where we are buying the backhoe, once we can swing it. By buying a used tractor and a mix of used and new attachments we will save about 16000.00 over buying the next size down, new with attachments bundle.
 
Joe Braxton
Posts: 320
Location: NC (northern piedmont)
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Keep in mind that most tractors that I've seen/used have wheel weights, front weights, and-or water/anti-freeze in the tires to help with traction. You might not need it depending on how you use it, but it can enter into your decisions.
 
laurie branson
Posts: 40
Location: SW Washington. zone 8a
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Thank you Cortland and Joe for your responses. We have pretty much done what you have done in our research but you make a good point about the "almost works" group. The 28 hp is probably in that category - the other two are 35hp and 38hp. Interesting to note the 38hp is the lighter tractor. And we are on the same page with buying used attachments - or for certain tasks to only be done once in a blue moon, maybe we could rent - like the tiller. I'm supposed to research that next. I'd love to find a used one but my husband thinks getting a new one under warranty is important. There doesn't seem to be a huge difference price wise, so it may be worth getting new just for that. I don't know...
Most dealers we've talked to around here use beet juice in the tires. They've also recommended getting the industrial tires rather than the ag or turf.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3358
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Industrial tires are a compromise--tear up lawns less than ag tires, more traction than turf tires, and all-around tougher (good if you have locust or rocks).

Weight matters if you want to use the HP to pull, doesn't if you want the power for the PTO.

For me a backhoe didn't make sense. They are really hard on tractors (small tractors just aren't built strong enough). I can trench power and water with a $200 subsoiler almost anywhere I need it. I rent a mini-ex if I need to dig. YMMV



 
Cortland Satsuma
Posts: 319
Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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@Laurie...

That is exactly why we ruled out a cheaper 28hp. We did a ton of online shopping; the right tractor at the right price showed up at a dealer (vs the private party ads) about an hour away from us. We both have mechanical ability; so maintaining the tractor is not much of a concern for us. The dealers' 3 month warranty was not a requirement for us. We did appreciate the fact it came with delivery; but, we were prepared to do a pick up if we had decided on a private party purchase. We searched at about a 4hr radius from us.
We went with liquid filled R4 tires, as they best serve our needs. We will try to buy vs rent the attachments we need; however, in a pinch we will rent. We will probably go new with the backhoe, as the model we need is not likely to show up on the used market. Most of the ones we see out here used are non-working, and, still way too high. The other attachments are hit and miss. When families sell off the family farm, they ask too much for the old tractor, but sometimes under value the attachments. Sounds like you are doing a good job of doing your research first! I hope you find what you need to get this years projects done.
 
Wiley Swift
Posts: 15
Location: East Texas zones 7b and 8!
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We have 2 tractors here. A ford 9n, it's small and light enough not tear up the ground. We use it for lighter duty chores. Mowing, or pulling a trailer full of gear.
The second is a 45 hp diesel. If I could only have one it would be the diesel. It has enough weight to skid logs or hook up the backhoe attachment. But could still be used for lighter tasks.
I made a misstep when I bought it years ago. No front end loader. I had never had one and at the time did not realize just what a work saver they could be. Still getting by with a boom pole and back bucket is not that bad just a lot slower. (Looking for one now though we want to build hugelbeds!)
As for attachments you might try auctions, both online and in person. We picked up a model 48 john deere backhoe attachment for $1500, which is cheap for our area. I am always seeing mowers and other equipment at them, often at low prices.
Good luck!
 
Kirk Hockin
Posts: 67
Location: Merville, BC
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I just bought a 29 hp Kubota, diesel and 4x4. I did a lot of research, asking questions on forums, talking with the dealer... Here's some tidbits I learned:

Small tractors usually lose traction before they run out of power, in other words the low weight is the problem. I was worried about compaction as well (similar situation to you, lots of winter rain) so I stayed on the smaller end. The loss of traction is mostly a problem when doing ground work (plowing/ripping/tilling). If you have few plans for that type of work, small and light is usually fine.

FEL are amazing, and there are lots of funky attachments (both commercial and DIY) to increase their utility.

Tractor backhoes, on the other hand, are very limited. Unlike a proper excavator (even the minis), the tractor BH can only twist 45 degrees off center (as opposed to 180), and every time you need to shift position to keep digging you have to raise the pads, switch seats, move slightly and set up again. A proper excavator can crawl on the tracks and keep digging. Even the local dealer suggested the tractor BH wasn't worth it (unless you grow money on trees). He recommended renting a mini-excavator when needed.

By the same logic, I decided a tilller wasn't worth it. I can rent a walk behind once for $50 and till up new garden space or I can by a PTO tiller for over $1000 and let it collect dust, since good Permies don't till...

I bought new since used were almost the same price, no warranty and who knows what kind of abuse... obviously resale value is high on well maintained second hand compacts.

A couple of attachments I plan to obtain are:

A FEL Rip'n'dig http://store.tractorbynet.com/product-p/rrrd.htm

A flail mower: I have old pasture I'd like to rehabilitate and a flail mower will mulch long grass and other herbaceous plants (even thin woody stems). The mulching effect mimics the mob grazing effect of livestock hitting lush vegetation for short spurts. I hope this will help with soil building in my pasture.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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There have been a lot of good, sensible replies to this thread so far.

Let me add:
* If you are doing a lot of heavy pulling/pushing on slick/snowy ground, then 4WD drive is more important than many other factors.
A front end loader, for most of us, more than doubles the functionality of a tractor. If it is a 2WD tractor, and you have 2-4000 pounds in the bucket, the leverage will take the weight off of the back wheels (where the traction is).

* It is far better to err on the side of 'too much power', than on the other end. If the tractor is on the lower end for just one job, you will either wish you had bought the bigger one (or end up renting a bigger one several times throughout your time). Better safe than sorry. Most often, a larger HP tractor used at less than full capacity will consume less fuel than a smaller tractor used at full capacity. A 40hp may cost you less to operate than a 25hp - depending on how it is used.

* Weight: Weight is distributed through all four tires. Most of the weight is on the front end, where the engine is (see my comment re: 4WD). A viable option here (if you are buying new, is to see if they can supply the tractor with radial tires on the front. It is a more expensive option (but a tiny fraction of what it would be for radial rear tires). Radial tires generally have a wider profile, which distributes the weight over more square inches (= less compaction). You can run the tires with less pressure for some processes, and pump them up when you need to use the front end loader. You can adjust the pressure they impact on your soil - who cares what the tractor does to your driveway, but keep it 'light' on your cropping areas.

* If you buy right, your tractor is a great investment. Examples...a Ford 2N cost $1,120 in 1942-47. A 9N cost $585 in 1939. If you can find one of these in decent shape for under $2,000 today, you have found a good investment.

If you buy a well respected make/model, and don't abuse it, you can always get your money back out of it...or pass it along to your grandkids.

 
R Scott
Posts: 3358
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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John Polk wrote:
* If you buy right, your tractor is a great investment. Examples...a Ford 2N cost $1,120 in 1942-47. A 9N cost $585 in 1939. If you can find one of these in decent shape for under $2,000 today, you have found a good investment.

If you buy a well respected make/model, and don't abuse it, you can always get your money back out of it...or pass it along to your grandkids.



This WAS true, it was for pickups, too--until they started adding electronics. If you buy NEW, expect to take a depreciation hit just like you would for a new car.

My opinion is 4wd is like adding 20 hp to the tractor's pulling ability and even more to the loader ability. A 25 hp 4wd will pull like a 45 hp 2wd, all other things being equal. Of course they cost about the same, too.
 
ben harpo
Posts: 76
Location: Illinois, zone 6b
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I have two Ferguson TO-30's. I absolutely love them! It costs considerable time and money to keep them running however. I've got a subsoiler, a moldboard plow, a dirt scoop, and a grader blade for making swales. The moldboard plow works good for swalemaking. I just drive along the swale line multiple times and turn the soil several times until its where I want it. While there is a front end loader attachment available, I'm told its not worth getting. They made a rear end loader similar to the FEL, but they are very rare and hard to find. As several people have mentioned 4WD is key for a good front end loader. My experience suggests it costs more to maintain old tractors than it does to buy them or to pay for fuel. Also you need to own plenty of tools. I've got bolt heads that are 33/32". Luckily I found that wrench in my late grandfather's collection because they don't sell them at the hardware store. I also had to order shower head valve sockets, to handle some of the large uncommon bolt sizes.

The Ford-Ferguson 9N and 2N were produced in small numbers during WWII and introduced what is now standard tractor technology. By the end of WWII they had fixed a few of the original problems and were able to mass produce agricultural tractors in much larger numbers. The Ford 8N and the Ferguson TO-20 represent the masterpieces of two of the greatest agricultural mechanical engineers who ever lived. More Ford 8N's were produced and sold than any other tractor ever, even till today. The TO-30 is almost identical to the TO-20 with just a little more power, because Ferguson couldn't allow Ford to make tractors that were more powerful and cheaper. These tractors perform better than the 2N and cost less because they have less antique value (age and rarity).

I would only recommend a pre-1947 tractor for the antique value. I definitely would recommend anything similar to the Ford 8N or the TO-20 for any small farmer who likes maintenance and wants to get a lot of use out of a small tractor. If 4WD and a front end loader are priorities and the budget exceeds $10,000 then a newer Kubota or John Deere are the way to go. A compromise halfway in between is the Ford 3600. Everyone I've met who has ever owned a Ford 3600 swears it is the best tractor ever made.

One more thing to be aware of: 3pt implements come in categories with different diameters of pins. We are talking about category 1. Make sure to pay attention to that. Otherwise you could accidently buy a category 2 boom pole that won't fit a category 1 tractor (like I did )
 
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