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M.R.J. Smith
Posts: 73
Location: North Idaho at 975m elevation on steep western slope, 60cm annual precipitation, zone 4
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Despite earthworks and such being a important part of permaculture, there's no thread on heavy machinery so let's start one here. Maybe a mod could double post it in the earthworks forum as well? I didn't see one there either.

I would be interested to hear all your thoughts on the best types of machines and or what worked for you or what is good for what. It seems like excavators are a crowd favorite but backhoes or track loaders seem useful too, and some people are fans of dozers but they seem less permie-approved.

Anyways part of my starting this is motivated by me looking for a machine to terrace out my steep mountainside but I want the most versatile machine that clear land, build roads, dig ponds, terraces, etc.
 
Dale Walker
Posts: 19
Location: Starksboro, Vermont
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I opted for a midi sized excavator, 8 tons. Steel tracks, 2' dig bucket and a 5' wrist grade bucket. We have just started in on our new homestead. 23 acre in VT. Just finishing up a 1200' road, and it has been the perfect machine for me! I've done a bit of trenching and started on our cabin site. So far the only thing I've been wanting for is a way to move material around site. On the fence between a 1 ton dump truck or a dump trailer. I could see a 40-50 hp tractor being helpful down the road.

Our lot is 50/50 woods meadow and not a whole lot of flat.

Good luck!
 
Tim Malacarne
Posts: 226
Location: South central Illinois, USA
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I bought a Komatsu D-21 Q6 on a farm equipment auction. Woulda been a better deal, but it had a frozen bearing in the steering clutches that, after about an hour of operation, left it pulling on just one track. A trip to the local dealer and me crossing his palm with a LOT of silver, yielded a decent machine, IMO, albeit more expensive that I'd of preferred. The stuff on auction sells, as-is/where-is and let the buyer beware... Even so, a person has to be half a mechanic otherwise the maintenance will eat you up... Just my 2 cents, good digging!
 
Pete Arthur
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Let me see.....

This week you built 1200' of road with an excavator. And it looks nice.
And the trees that had to come down are neetly stacked on the side of the road.

Your bucket/backhoe tractor would have taken 2 and a half weeks. And it would look ok.
And the trees were pushed into piles here and there.

Your bulldozer would have taken 2 days. and left a mess.
And the excess trees are half burried with the extra dirt along the way, sorry, too bad.

NEXT WEEK

Your bucket/backhoe tractor is carring hay, gravel, firewood, digging trenches, pileing dirt,
and you are hopeing that 10 gallons of diesel will be enough for what you have to do this week.

Your excavator is still doing things around the farm, digging holes, moving trees,
but gets lent out more than used on the farm. Unless you want to make a wofati. Or have to clear trees from 5 acres.

Your bulldozer is parked behind the barn because you can't stand to see the tracks rust,
but you can't think of anything for it to do without ripping up the yard-field-driveway.


The mini backhoe/tractor will do just about everything on a farm, it just takes longer,
but the most efficient use of reasources, in my oppinion.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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We borrowed the neighbor's mini-backhoe/tractor and found it too small and light for any but the smallest earth-moving projects. For anything serious we hire the guys with the real equipment. We could have all the earth-moving we want done by experienced guys with large equipment for the cost of one of these little tractors ($16000 - $24000). Unless you're farmin' up a storm, I think it's hard to justify buying one of these things. But everyone seems to want one. Our neighbors' tractors mostly sit.
 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 478
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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Curtis Budka
Lab Ant
Posts: 109
Location: Southern NH zone 5b
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Open source Ecology is working on a highly modular set of machines that can be built by anyone who can weld and put bolts together. These are free open source designs that can be built at only the cost of materials. On top of that, I don't know of a better way to understand the mechanics of a machine (for Maintenance) than to build it yourself.

Granted, I don't see them coming up with a 20 ton excavator any time soon...
 
Dave Dahlsrud
Posts: 507
Location: North-Central Idaho, 4100 ft elev., 24 in precip
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We run a 50 horse Kubota with a loader and various implements. We don't have a hoe for it yet, but I think it's in the works. We use the heck out of it. Moving materials with the bucket and bale spears, making swales and establishing garden beds with a 2 bottom plow, mowing, grading, auguring post holes, and and skidding logs. I think Pete has it pegged, the tractor/mini hoe combo is hard to beat for versatility on the homestead!
 
Rick Valley
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Just built a month ago a pond about 7 ft. deep, a 70 ft. oval, with a rented skid steer machine a small Gehl excavator and a smallish Korean built 4X tractor with loader and tiller. I've used tillers before when the soils were quite stratified, with clay in distinct layers, and I think a tiller is very useful for getting the proper compaction. This time the tiller worked for compaction too, but we were working with a silt soil. To get the proper compaction we had one of us constantly spraying water into the tiller zone. It worked: we got a solid dam. Tractor tires give you better compaction than a cat's treads too. For making swales and other linear water features I like using a road grader; it's super fast and does a really good job.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Location: Longbranch, WA
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I am thinking small equipment because my farm is well established. I need to reshape some swales and shallow ponds, put in some culverts and waterlines, build a greenhouse into a hillside. and pull a lot of Scotch broom.
This is what I would like to have: webpage
I think that with a thumb for the bucket to press against it could quickly pull the mature scotch broom which is a nitrogen fixer and leave lightly disturbed soil which in my experience produces abundant produce. I don't want to compact my soil or make ruts in my clay so I would not want to put heavy equipment on these fields.
If I get some ants to contract sections of my spare 7 acres we may do a kick-starter to purchase one of these.
 
Dillon Nichols
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Location: Victoria BC
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Hans, for the broom, are you familiar with the 'pullerbear' broom/tree pulling device? Might be an alternative to diesel powered equipment, especially if you could power it with ants...

Personally, I'm hoping a ~50-75HP 4x4 tractor with loader, forks, and backhoe is in my future; I've read many arguments in favor of the experienced, efficient pros with larger, more efficient machines, and I think in dollar terms this might be the better way to go for most... but that really doesn't touch the convenience factor. There are an amazing number of things a tractor can handle which would otherwise be a major hassle to wait for a rented machine/operator. Things like pulling your truck out of the ditch, clearing the driveway after a blizzard, moving portable structures, making minor drainage changes on short notice, hoisting up a pig for scalding... I've even heard of a tractor being used to extinguish a structure fire by dumping many yards of wet mud on it; obviously the structure was a write-off, but this kept the problem from expanding when no other solution was available. Plus, even tasks that can be planned for and combined to make a visit by a machine more economical will be things that need to wait a while, instead of things that can get done Right Now.

Now, I can certainly think of ways to do all of the listed items without a tractor... but they would definitely take longer.


The flip side is once you own the machine, it's a potential bottleneck in and of itself... can't pay a pro to do that, that would be crazy when you have a machine already here! Just need to fix this, and tune up that, and weld that other thing, and it will be all set...
 
James Kniskern
Posts: 3
Location: Berea Kentucky
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I'm firmly in the "Hire out the work on large machines" camp.
Firstly, I don't have the skills to operate dozers, backhoes or excavators, graders or such.
That being said, I designed my 8.1 acre property to have a 500-ish foot driveway, a house pad, clear a fence line, septic system install (code in our county), a new pond, 2000 linear feet of swales and needed clay mined for the clay plasters on our straw bale house.

When I moved to the new farm, I didn't know anyone or who to call to do this kind of work. But ya know, people know people who know people who can get it done. You just need to start talking to people and asking.

Our "little" projects were too little for the really big companies to bother with. But we found a father and son team who do all kinds of excavating work for folks around. They have the large equipment needed, the skills and the expertise to use them like fine carving tools.

Yes, it hurts to watch a dozer cut into the topsoil and start moving it around. And demolishing established trees on a fence line, but wow, so much work done in so little time.

Our excavator looked at me like I'd grown a second head when I tried explaining swales to him. But when I laid out the little flags and said I wanted 2 foot ditches along the hillside, he did what I asked. It took 2 days with the son operating the excavator and me running the laser level to get the 2000 feet of swales done. If I was renting the machine, or trying to do all the work myself, it would have taken a week or two.

Yes it can be expensive to hire out the work. Yes, you could buy the machines to do it yourself. Yes you could rent them. But there are some things that need done that you could do yourself, but can get done much cheaper and faster when you have a skilled worker do it for you.
After all, it is a community thing as well. And remember, if you have large equipment like that just sitting around idle, it isn't helping anyone and the amazing amount of embodied energy in them is wasting away. This kind of equipment should be used, and used often, or it is just wasted.

Alternatively, you could purchase a machine, do your work, and sell it. But that is another challenge.

Good luck with your projects, and remember, those dozer treads really tear up sod. But it grows back.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Posts: 3021
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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We will be getting a 40+ horse power tractor with FEL and BH as soon as we can, our road is steep and gravel which will require maintenance at least twice a year, every year because of where Asnikiye Hecka is located.
I will also be using it to drag trees, lift bents into place and a myriad of other chores that could be done other ways but would end up costing more and take longer.
For us it is practical to own such a piece of equipment because of how much we would end up spending to hire it all out.
The math showed that just to do half of the work needed we would spend the 40 k the tractor will cost, and while we can finance the tractor, we can't finance payments if we hire it out.
 
Jeffrey Pardo
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Our farm is the sloping back side of a hill/mountain. 300+ difference in elevation with terracing 10-15 degree slopes.
I got a used Menzi Muck that came with a grading bucket, grapple, and flail mulching mower. It's about 15,000 lbs.
I use it for the larger jobs: moving logs to the sawmill, grading newly cut areas, mulching back the overgrown shrubs, and turning large compost piles, digging a pond.
For the smaller stuff, I use a walk behind BCS with a rotary tiller (great -- it just turns up our rocks) and sickle mowing attachment.
The Menzi Muck is a walking excavator and will climb a 70 degree hill. Each wheel goes up, down, in, out. 32 different grease points. A pain, but a hoot to work with.

Jeffrey Pardo
Abi Gezunt Farm
Canton, CT

 
Dan Grubbs
Posts: 542
Location: northwest Missouri, USA
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I've built about 750 feet of swales on contour and did it all with a small tractor and 3-point two-bottom plow with touch up done by a 3-point swing blade. Once they were laid out on contour using a bunyip level, each swale took about 3.5 to 4 hours to build using this method. For those not wanting to rent or hire larger equipment to build swales, this is a reasonable alternative. It didn't have to have the hand work I did on the swales, but I was anal about it and cleaned things up with hand tools. When I cut my next swales on our new farm, I won't do the hand work.

Here is a link to a thread with photos where we discussed this technique and some planting discussion, too.

http://www.permies.com/t/28896/earthworks/Swale-berm-planting-suggestions

I wouldn't know the first thing about operating a large excavator or backhoe, so rental was not an option for me. I certainly didn't have the money to hire it done. So, this was my only option and it turned out to be very effective for swale building.

Also, I'm going to host a workshop using this technique (bunyip water level, two-bottom plow) this spring when we cut swales on our new farm in northwest Missouri.
 
Adam Rust
Posts: 12
Location: Northern Kentucky
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I grew up doing excavation with my dad. I am the guy you call when you are hiring your earthworks done. I've been around a number of different kinds of equipment, and I can say without a doubt a backhoe is the most versatile machine. Excavators and dozers are specialized to do certain kinds of jobs really well. A backhoe is able to do pretty much all kinds of jobs pretty well. So, if versatility is a high priority for you (which is for me), then definitely get a backhoe. And I'm not talking about the smaller variety either. Personally, I'm a big fan of Case backhoes. I currently own a 580 Super K. It is 4x4 (which is a must if you are working on slopes) and it has a 4-in-1 front bucket which allows me to pick up large objects (mostly logs and rocks). It's got enough power to handle big tree stumps, rocks, etc.

I find that many people assume that a full size backhoe will be too expensive. The reality, though, is that I see people buying tractors for 10k to 20k. I see good used backhoes (like mine) for 14k to 18k. So, for a bit more money, you can get a way more powerful machine that is way more versatile. The mini backhoes might be fine for folks with several acres and rock free dirt and small trees. But folks who have lots of acreage, challenging slopes, rocky soil, big trees, etc., a bigger machine is going to be way more handy.

The only downsides I can think of for a machine like the 580K (or 580L, 580M, etc.) are:
1) They are heavy, so they will compact your soil and/or break your septic system if you absent-mindedly drive over it.
2) They are powerful enough to do some damage, so get some training on technique if you are a novice starting out.

The pros are too many to list here. All I can say is that I have run these machines for thousands of hours and nothing else is as versatile and valuable (in terms of amount of work you can do per dollar of input) as a good backhoe. So, to anyone looking for a good machine to help them work the land, I recommend watching your local Craigslist or http://www.machinerytrader.com/ for a Case 580K, 580L, 580M. Comparable machines are made by Caterpillar and John Deere. Those are fine machines as well. Once you get the hang of operating it, you'll become the person that others in your area call for help with their earthmoving needs. (Sidenote: It's common to charge $70 to $90 per hour for backhoe work, so your machine could quickly pay for itself if you do jobs for other people).
11890001_10206290230229057_8110379253577844050_o.jpg
[Thumbnail for 11890001_10206290230229057_8110379253577844050_o.jpg]
Case 580 Super K
11947728_10206290233709144_6837642235442293318_o.jpg
[Thumbnail for 11947728_10206290233709144_6837642235442293318_o.jpg]
Also good for giving rides to children
 
Dillon Nichols
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Adam, very interesting; I just saw a Case 580M for sale locally and thought it looked like a lot of machine for the money. Definitely like the idea of spinning in the cab to switch to backhoe operation, vs clambering out of the forward seat into the dedicated backhoe position for an add-on backhoe...

However... as I understand it, generally an industrial machine like this would not have the ability to use standard 3-pt hitch/PTO driven tractor implements?
 
Adam Rust
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Hi Dillon,

Yes, you are correct on the point that a machine like this cannot do a 3-pt PTO. That is a downside for anyone who has applications that require a PTO implement. At the time of writing this, I have not figured out how to plow a field with a backhoe. But I'll keep pondering that, and I may come up with a solution there.

Personally, I'm planning on doing a lot of hillside farming, so I'm working on terraces, swales, hugelbeds, etc. I don't really have any need for PTO applications. About the only thing I would possibly need a PTO for is a big mower or bushhog. For that, I might someday buy a junky old tractor with PTO and the bushhog attachment, but I'll spend the least amount of money on that as possible because it's not a high priority for me. I generally try to avoid having lots of different machines. That's why I stick with a backhoe. It's the one machine with which I can do almost everything I need. For the few things I can't do with it (e.g. mowing), I may just need to bite the bullet and get a second machine for those few applications that a backhoe won't handle well, unless I can get some goats to do my mowing for me.

The 580M is a great machine. If you want to send me a link to the listing, I'd be happy to give you my two cents on it if you're thinking of pursuing it.
 
Tyler Ludens
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We're going to try renting a walk-behind trencher for a series of small swales on a gentle slope. $150 for the weekend.



I realised this might fall into the "light equipment category)....
 
Dave Dahlsrud
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Location: North-Central Idaho, 4100 ft elev., 24 in precip
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The lack of a PTO/3pt is the reason we've gone with the smaller machine and exploring getting a hoe attachment. I suppose at some point storing impliments takes up as much space as another machine, but you only gave to maintain one piece of equipment. I agree that a full sized backhoe is exponentially better suited to the task of digging as opposed to an attachment. I guess I'll see once I get the hoe for my Kubota it may or may not frustrate me so much that I just go out and get a real backhoe....who knows!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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As long as you have a big enough (40+ hp.) tractor, the backhoe attachment will work very well.
There is a TLD model that has the single, swivel seat like a dedicated back hoe/loader.
I have done the math for Asnikiye Heca and our land will require between 40-50 hp. for a tractor.
I will be getting either a TLD model or a tractor fitted with a FEL and BH already attached. Both these tractors will have 3 point hitch and PTO.
If you already had a dedicated loader/backhoe and had welding skills and equipment, you could build a plow attachment that would hook to the bucket attachment points on the back hoe.
Another option would be to do the same but attach tot he bucket mounting points.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Location: Longbranch, WA
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Adam Rust wrote:Hi Dillon,
Personally, I'm planning on doing a lot of hillside farming, so I'm working on terraces, swales, hugelbeds, etc. I don't really have any need for PTO applications. About the only thing I would possibly need a PTO for is a big mower or bushhog. For that, I might someday buy a junky old tractor with PTO and the bushhog attachment, but I'll spend the least amount of money on that as possible because it's not a high priority for me. I generally try to avoid having lots of different machines. That's why I stick with a backhoe. It's the one machine with which I can do almost everything I need. For the few things I can't do with it (e.g. mowing), I may just need to bite the bullet and get a second machine for those few applications that a backhoe won't handle well, unless I can get some goats to do my mowing for me.
.

I think you can get a hydroliclly powered flail to go on the backhoe arm. That is what I see them doing on the steep banks alongside the roads.
 
Devin Lavign
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Since I am a certified heavy equipment operator for dozer, backhoe, excavator, and front loader I guess I will weigh in on the topic of equipment.

First, I will point out front loaders are by far the easiest equipment for a lay person to learn to use. 15 min of practice and you pretty much have a handle on it. However they are limited in uses. Great for moving good amounts of soil moderate distance but lack finesse for more detailed tasks.

Dozers, highly under rated but take a lot of skill to use effectively. A good dozer operator with a 6 way blade can move massive amounts of earth and do some great finesse work. Something to note, the dozer even though heavy due to tracks spreading the load they don't do a lot of compaction. There are various levels of "float" for dozers some designed specifically to work in swampy conditions you couldn't get anything else in. A dozer can do a lot more than just rough work, a good dozer operator can come close to doing finish grading work.

Excavators, probably the most over rated equipment. Yes they are great for digging trenches (which is their primary use), but tend to be pretty dependent on other equipment to then move that pile of earth if you don't want it there. Yes they are more commonly getting blades on them, but those blades are very light duty and not made to be pushing large amounts of earth. Mainly the blade is to give the machine the ability to level spot to work from not to grade a road. However, excavators are a great tool for specific jobs, and much less the jack of all that many seem to think they are.

Backhoe, speaking of jack of all trades this is it. The backhoe doesn't excel at any one thing other than being versatile and able to take on many rolls. Especially if you have plenty of front and rear bucket options. over all the backhoe is the best one piece of equipment to buy if your going to buy one only. If you need something else, rent it or hire someone. But a backhoe, or even the smaller tractors with loader and backhoe attachments are the piece of equipment to look the hardest at as it will give you the most for the money. Speaking of money they tend to also be the easiest to find lower cost used. The only other piece of equipment you will see low priced is the old dozers that keep getting passed around as uses for them run out on people's land.

Grader, likely the most difficult to learn. However they are amazingly versatile and you might be amazed at what can be done with one and how fast it can push dirt around. A grader can make swales if it wasn't too steep a slope in a several long passes that would take an excavator or backhoe days and weeks to do. But the key with graders, they take a lot of skill to really learn the full potential of the machines and how to manipulate them right. Not to mention they are also some of the pricer equipment.
 
Adam Rust
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Thanks for your input on this topic, Devin. I agree 100% with your assessment.
 
Devin Lavign
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Adam Rust wrote:Thanks for your input on this topic, Devin. I agree 100% with your assessment.


Glad to add to the info in the thread. Equipment is fun, but also a hefty price tag. Not just the initial cost but you have fuel, hydrolic fluid, lots of grease for all the joints, maintenance and parts, etc. Just replacing a tire or track is a big expense. So giving folks a way to narrow down what equipment might be long term useful vs just rent or hire if needed can help them really save money for other projects. Because we know there is always another project wanting money.

BTW that reminds me of the very important issue of hydrolic fluid. The stuff is super nasty. If your trying to have a nice heathy garden. Really make sure you inspect and maintain the lines. I have seen some of those lines blow and geyser all over the place. Not a fun thing to happen as it is dangerous to contact skin or eyes, but also not good for any living stuff really. So something to remember when looking at those older used pieces of equipment, check all those lines, replace any that look cracked or worn.
 
Adam Rust
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I couldn't agree more about all the maintenance expenses to consider. They are no joke.

It's funny you mention hydraulic hoses and fluid as well. I just blew a hose on my backhoe last week. Luckily it wasn't a geyser. More of a fine mist, but I still had to stop work on my swale, take the hose off, get a new one made, and get it back on. I ended up getting almost nothing accomplished that day. It was a bummer, but these things happen. As you said, it's good to be prepared for such scenarios when purchasing a piece of equipment.
 
chad duncan
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I purchased a beat-almost-to-death International harvester 3400A backhoe last summer for $4000. Used it a little at the start, now I use it a lot. I dig holes, trenches, uproot broom brush, clean chicken coops, empty sawdust bags (1000L bags), spread manure, haul heavy round bales of hay, load huge hay bales (6 feet long) into the upper floor of the barn and I am going to try to attack an acre of blackberry bush some time this summer.
When I bought it, I thought that I may be wasting my money on a piece of equipment that I would only need once (and planned on reselling when the job was done) but now I don't know how I would get along without it.
 
Curtis Budka
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Not a fun thing to happen as it is dangerous to contact skin or eyes.


I don't think its as dangerous to just make contact with the fluid as it is dealing with high pressure leaks. The same goes for any fuel lines going from the high pressure secondary fuel pump and the injectors on any diesel engine with a 'common rail'. It doesn't matter if the engine is off; its still pressurized. This means that a fine mist can easily turn into a skin piercing jet of fluid (look up hydraulic fluid injection injury, it's not pretty.) Please be careful.



 
Devin Lavign
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Something to remember about hydraulic fluid, even in the 3 different classes of it each class of hydraulic fluid is subject to very different chemical makeups. Thus making definitive safe or hazardous hard to say unless you know the specific chemicals in that one brand.

From the CDC
This toxicological profile discusses only three classes of hydraulic fluids: mineral oil hydraulic fluids, polyalphaolefin hydraulic fluids, and organophosphate ester hydraulic fluids. The classes are based on the major chemicals found in the hydraulic fluids. However, hydraulic fluids are often complex mixtures of many chemical components. A particular hydraulic fluid can differ in its chemical components from another hydraulic fluid even if the two fluids are in the same class. Thus, effects of exposure may differ.


I suggest if folks wish to learn more about hydraulic fluid and possible health and environmental risks visit the CDC link here http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/PHS/PHS.asp?id=755&tid=141 Where the quote above is from.
 
Travis Johnson
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I do a lot of land clearing (63 acres on the docket this year alone), so I am a firm believer in, and using a bulldozer. The thing is though, everything has its place. In order for a road to hold up, you need a bulldozer to place fill in layers...and excavator just won't work. But when it comes to general usage, and excavator is the tool to have. They just have so many accessories that you can rent for them. The same is true for a tracked skid steer though I would not buy a wheeled skid steer...so many attachments. A backhoe is great at moving and digging material distances. I used one to move a rock wall for base on a 1/4 mile forestry road. It worked better then the tracked skid steer because it has a 1 yard bucket and was just as fast.

I don't really consider a farm tractor as "heavy equipment", and around here any place with a goat and two apple trees has one. We call them "Kubota Farmers".

But I have a Kubota, and while not a piece of heavy equipment by any means, my Wallenstein Log Trailer has been one of my better buys. It not only loads logs onto its bunk trailer, the unit switches the grapple out for a back hoe bucket with the bunks coming off and a dump body put into its place. Then the grapple can be switched out for a post hole driller. Because it is basically a mini-excavator on a trailer instead of tracks, I plan to put a wood splitter on it so I can split my wood directly into the dump body, drive to my firewood shed and dump it all without having to touch a piece of wood. I also plan to have a boom mounted bush hog onto it for mowing along road ditches and over fence lines. Since it has its own power pack, I can do all this with it attached to my tractor, my bulldozer, or even my Ford Explorer. It is pretty handy. Small, but handy. For a homesteader, it really is a nice unit to have kicking around.

In the past 2 months I have used it to:
Haul wood
Dig 2 culverts and install them
Gravel wet spots on a 1/2 mile logging road deep in the woods
Built 3 rock retaining walls
Moved all my big round hay bales (it is really fast at this)
Used it as a crane to move my busted lawn tractor into the dump body and lifted my busted bush hog to replace its angle drive
Used it to break down the back tires of my Kubota tractor down (by pinching it with the grapple)

Here I am using it to build a retaining wall using the grapple in conjunction with the dump body.





 
Marsha Richardson
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What size Kubota is that?  We are thinking about getting one and are having a few discussions about what size to get.  I have a friend who has the 1025 but my husband thinks that is way too small. He wants to be able to snatch big trees out of the ground and I am thinking swales and hauling firewood out of the woods.
 
Travis Johnson
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It is only a 27 hp tractor, but it is all I need and I got hundreds of acres. For logging you want a smaller tractor, but one with ground clearance. The Kubota BX series for instance is too low to the ground. The L series is much better, but there narrow width allows you to duck between the trees. Because of emissions laws now, anything under 26 hp is immune from the laws so you often see 26 hp engines in everything from bigger tractors to smallish tractors. When you get into the bigger models just be sure to have a manual tranny and not a slosh drive or it will be doggy. I like manual anyway because they don't heat up so much while doing all day field work.

In all honesty, the tractor is only half the equation though, the winch is what makes or breaks you in the woods. With 150 feet of cable, you can snake trees between other trees, grab trees that fall off your twitch, or winch trees sideways to get around obstacles...all without moving your tractor. I have cut wood without a winch when I first started back in the 1980's, but now that I have had a winch for 25 years or more, I don't know how I did it. Even with the Wallenstein, I use my winch as you can see in the pictures. I welded a hitch to it and in that arrangement I can bring trees right up to the log trailer, cut them into 8 feet lengths (for the paper mill I sell too) and head to the yard!
 
John Weiland
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We don't have much in the way of large timber or hills, so I'll let Travis and others handle that.  Pretty sure I posted the photos below in another equipment thread.  The greenie (2005 John Deere 4010) is only 18 hp....but not your riding lawnmower 18 hp.  It's a 3-cyl diesel and with the build and frame is much beefier than a standard gas garden tractor.  It is my wife's go-to unit for manure moving and general lifting of things around the property....we probably use it 3X more than the Kubota.  The Kubo is an L3200, 3-cyl diesel (32 hp),....so larger, stronger, wider wheel-base for better stability on ambling terrain, and just better at driving larger mowers and pulling things.  Both units are quite fuel efficient.  I actually like the front loader on the JD better as it is positioned closer to the front of the tractor and is more stable on account of that even though it can't lift quite the load of the Kubota.  Both are hydrostatic drive; push the pedal forward to go forward and backward to go backward.... easy and usable for 95% of our tasks.  As Travis mentioned, sometimes geared options have an advantage in some ways. 

With high winds and dutch elm disease (and ash diseases on the way) in our area, there is plenty of timber from 6 - 12" in diameter to cut up for firewood. If I had a sawmill like they have at the Steamthreshers exhibit a few miles from here (photo #2 below), I'd be set!  As it is, however, you can do pretty good by building a sturdy table onto a 3-pt. carryall (somewhat like in stock photo #3) and positioning a PTO-driven generator under that.  In the generator, you can plug in many tools, including a chop/miter saw for cutting moderate size timber.....all at your choice of location on the property.

Edited to add that you will not be cutting long boards with a chop saw....that is the domain of a true saw-mill, of either the band-saw, chain-saw, or rotary-blade configuration.
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Travis Johnson
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I should take the time and explain my post better. One of the reasons why people are happy with older and bigger Kubota is because it has a 34 HP engine in it. Because Tier 4 emissions is NOT required on engines less than 26 hp, tractor manufactures are putting 26 hp engines on larger sized tractors that formerly would have got 34 hp engines or more. When teamed up with a manual tranny its not so underpowered, but when a smaller engine is trying to power a larger sized tractor by pumping oil in a hydrostatic transmission, it is on the sluggish side. Go into a dealership and look at the tractors. A sub-compact tractor that could barely mow your lawn has a 26 hp engine, just as the larger compact tractors do as well. Its the same engine too all so that they can get around the emissions mandate.

BTW: I got a saw mill like that, though mine does not have the top saw, just the 48 inch rotary saw. I also have a chainsaw mill (useless), a bandsaw mill, and a shingle mill for making cedar shingles.
 
tomas viajero
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I wish I discovered this thread earlier...

For all around flexibility, a farm tractor can't be beat.  I have a John Deere 30hp with a loader and backhoe, manual transmission.  We use it for moving just about everything, from earth, manure, hay bales, sand, cement, firewood... you name it.  The backhoe is indispensable.  I have a stump grinder attachment, and a mower attachment, and loading forks that are also very handy.   The only drawback is that it isn't great on side hills.  Almost all of my property is hilly, very little flat ground. 

So, for logging I use a Komatsu d20 bulldozer.   It's much safer skidding logs on a side hill with a dozer than a tractor. I like the Komatsu because it's a very small, simple machine.  Manual transmission, 40hp, 6 way blade.  Not much to it.  It's great for pushing stuff, and pulling stuff.   It's done everything I've asked it to.  And after sitting for a few months between projects, it starts right up again... no problems.
 
Peter Kalokerinos
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We agonised over buying machinery for quite some time. Then, when the guys turned up to do a pad for a shed and two big tanks and I saw what a 5 tonne excavator could do I was almost immediately sold. We got an 8.5 tonne.



For our purposes, this machine does everything we need it to do. We want to terrace about 110 acres of mountainous terrain, do a heap of swales, ponds/dams, hugel beds etc. It does all this with ease. We've got a tilt hit on it now (not shown) and that grab bucket is awesome.

What it doesn't do well?
- moving material, especially at decent distances. We really need a loader for this work so that is on the shopping list at the end of the year
- we have an angle blade on this, but its only up/down/left/right. So it doesn't grade all that well/its hard

BUT - it can do all that, its just slow.

A grab is awesome. We have a lot of rock and lots of trees. All of which we want to move around the place for a variety of uses. The grab makes it so much easier and we can do it with finesse...impossible with just a bucket loader or dozer

When we get a tractor/loader, we'll get  a big tilt trailer, then we can move material much easier around the property. If we had roads on site, I'd just buy a cheap tipper truck

The other thing to consider, IMO, is that with most greenfield permaculture sites, like ours, you start at zone 0/1 and work your way out. Its an iterative process as you expand out into the other zones. This means you dont necessarily need to do massive amounts of clearing or moving of material quickly, so an excavator suits this more considered approach IMO.

To sum up, my recommendation at this point is to follow the same path as we have:
- Excavator first
- Then a loader/tractor (3PL is useful and attachments are dirt cheap)
- A tipper of some type if you're place is large
- A dozer if you really need it, but I'd be more inclined to hire one in for a month or two if that volume of work was required. They just dont have the ability to place material/rock/timber finitely....depends how anal you are I guess.

Buy v hire?
- IMO, if you're in it for the long term and your place is large, buy it and learn
- if you have say 5-10 acres. I'd pay someone like geoff lawton for a plan for the whole thing and then depending on how that goes, get a big machine in (20-30 tonne excavator or a D10) and throw $20-50k at getting it all done in a few months as opposed to years and years DIY

We have friends with a 5 acre plot. Wants to spend $30k on a used machine....then he'll be working it every weekend for the next 3 years mucking around. I'd throw $7k at a bloke and a big machine for a week and get it all done. People dont value their time enough IMO.
 
Glenn Herbert
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When I started building my house in the mid-1980s, my then-brother-in-law and I got a beat-up 20 year old International backhoe for $5000. It handily dug my foundation and septic system, dug and loaded dozens of truckloads of gravel, hauled logs, and did a number of small paying jobs. Unfortunately I was not an engine mechanic and when it wouldn't start one year didn't know how to tune and repair it (replacing mechanical parts was no big deal, though). It finally went to a friend for the price of getting an addition foundation dug.

Since the early 90s I have had a c. 1985 JD 850 tractor (25hp diesel) with loader and backhoe. This has been an indispensable tool for all sorts of land work. A couple of years ago I moved about a hundred tons of rocks to build a sub-base for a roadway across a seasonally swampy field. There have been times when the tractor was not heavy enough for a tough job, and the backhoe attachment has nowhere near the capacity of the full-size backhoe I had, but the four-wheel drive lets it get into and out of places that the old two-wheel drive backhoe floundered in. I can remove the backhoe and mount the bush hog, or hook up and move a 7000 lb equipment trailer, or have the agility of nothing hanging off the back.

For establishing a large property I would go with a dedicated used backhoe, but for day-to-day use outside of a full-time farm a modest tractor with loader and other attachments is the handiest combination I can imagine.
 
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