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Tractors, necessary, or luxury?

 
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My only concern with subcompact tractors, and one issue that many people overlook, is their low ground clearance. If a person is doing field work, then it is no big deal, but if they plan to do any logging at all, it makes them almost useless.

Do not get me wrong, I use my 25 HP Kubota in the woods a lot, and on a per cord basis, it makes more money then my skidder. The going has to be pretty good, but it just sips fuel compared to the skidder. But a subcompact, some have ground clearances of only 6 inches, and less if they have backhoes on them. (Think of the BX Kubota series here).
 
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Travis,

You are correct, the subcompacts don’t have a lot of ground clearance, but whenever I used my subcompact in the woods I made certain that I never went over any objects that could possibly get tangled up under the tractor.  This was pretty easy as it was small and maneuverable enough that I could steer around almost any obstacle.

Eric
 
Travis Johnson
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Eric Hanson wrote:Travis,

You are correct, the subcompacts don’t have a lot of ground clearance, but whenever I used my subcompact in the woods I made certain that I never went over any objects that could possibly get tangled up under the tractor.  This was pretty easy as it was small and maneuverable enough that I could steer around almost any obstacle.

Eric



Yeah, I have always said that about my Kubota. That thing gets right around in the woods, much better than my skidder where I cannot even see what I am driving over!! (LOL)

I do get hung up on a lot of stuff still though.

My best advice to anyone who is going to cut any amount of wood, is to get a winch. A 3/8 cable 150 feet long can go a lot more places then a tractor can, and it always has 100% traction. I have snaked some logs out of some pretty tight, nasty places with my winch. It really ends up being "half the tractor" and takes years of abuse off the tractor too since the winch is doing all the work, and the tractor is just idling by running said winch.
 
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Travis,

I certainly agree about the winch.  For a time I really considered getting a Wallenstein skidding winch.  It was just out of my price range for what is to me a hobby.  If I were doing this on a regular, paid basis I would jump on one.

Eric
 
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I should also point out that I have and still am considering a log arch.  They are much more affordable and can really make moving logs easier.

In the end I made my own version of a log trailer.  I took a single 4x4x8 and cut it into 2’ sections.  I bolted them together in a little cradle like configuration.  I attached 4 wheel barrow wheels, placed one end of the log on the cradle trailer and lifted the other end with the 3 point hitch and pulled the log out of the woods.  I pulled out over 20 of these logs using this contraption.  It was far from perfect, but it was probably the most bang for the buck.

It was a really simple solution to a difficult problem.  All it cost me was a 4x4, 4 wheels and some bolts.  It is also really easy to store.

I will see if I can get some pictures.

Eric
 
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Here are some pictures of the mini log trailer
IMG_8130-Copy.JPG
Mini homemade log trailer
Mini homemade log trailer
Log-Trailer-in-action-003.JPG
mini home made log trailer in action
mini home made log trailer in action
 
Travis Johnson
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Nice rig as it works and was cheap. I like cheap!

One trick I learned too is to look up old books on topics such as haying or logging. If you look at the ways they did things in the 1950's, it is methods that are easy to replicate on a homestead scale. It was before horses, but while still using smallish tractors.

Your trailer made me think of something they called a "Go Devil." It was just a forked tree, about 3 feet long, with the single end cut at a 45 degree so it would not catch on rocks and roots. They would put a log over the forked end, and chain it down, and then pull the "Go Devil" It was a free way to keep the front end of the log from dragging in the dirt.
 
Eric Hanson
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Yep Travis, I like cheap too!

It was not the “best” solution but was cheap, simple and effective.  I had something like 20-25 logs to pull out and it was hard to justify $3k for 25 logs.  That’s $125 per log!  I don’t remember the exact price for my trailer as it was cheap enough as to not warrant keeping track, but it was assuredly well under $100.  I remember specifically that the most expensive part by far was the 4 tires.  I just checked quickly and the price of a wheel barrow tire at Rural King is about $18 per wheel.  So maybe the whole thing was $85 plus my own labor.  I can take this price to move 25 logs.

I should point out that I did put several of those logs to good use.  I took the best, straightest logs and used them as borders for my raised bed gardens.  I suppose about 10 of those logs are still serving as raised bed edges.  This won’t last long as I put them in place 10 years ago.  They were really starting to show their age about 2 years ago when I started my wine cap/wood chip project.  In the last two years, the logs that hosted wine cap Inoculated chips went from bad to worse.  Those logs have clearly been inoculated with wine caps and they are rapidly breaking down.  I am hoping to get just one more year out of them.  All they have to do is keep the chips from falling out of the bed and if they last one more year then they will be replaced the following year.

I have found that red oak logs are rotting the fastest while hickory seems to stand up a bit better and even when thoroughly rotten, they still retain a residual strength better than the red oaks.

Eric
 
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I had kind of the same problem, but different!

I had too much tractor.

In my case it was a bulldozer with new tracks, and as I dry-dragged logs out, the logs would catch on roots and rocks and then snap the log chokers I was using to pull them. I knew I needed to get the logs off the ground, but how? So I went online and was looking at 1940 solutions to logging, and found a book. I downloaded it, and so I have it now. But it had some good ideas on how to use small tractors to log,

In the end I went in a different direction. I saw a log trailer out beside a dealership and decided to ask them how much. NEVER DO THAT! It is like going to your own wedding, it is going to cost you some serious money! (Not that I would trade Katie in).  "Have we got a deal for you" they said, and gave it to me at cost ($18,000) Someone had ordered it, then decided not to take it, so they sat on it for 2 years. They were eager to get rid of it.

BUT I still use my winch. What I do is have my winch on my tractor, then the log trailer. I fell the trees, winch them close enough to my log trailer to grab, then buck them into logs and load them on the trailer. It is a slow process, and I can only move 5 cord per day that way, but they hardly touch the ground, so they are really clean.


DSCN4164.JPG
log trailer
log trailer
 
Eric Hanson
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Travis,

I saw those log trailers online years before I saw yours on Permies.  I spent plenty of time fantasizing how I could get my hands on one.  When I saw yours I drooled.  I love the thought of one of those trailers, but in my case there is simply no way for me to justify one.  Most of my logging is finished.  I hauled out most of the trees felled 10 years ago in a super-derecho.  The remaining ones are nicely rotting away.  Due to a small but deep creek that runs through my woods, there are some parts that I cannot get my tractor to without making some sort of bridge.  I still like the idea of logging fallen trees, but for practical purposes I have finished my logging operation.  I have no desire to cut down any remaining live trees—enough damage was done 10 years ago.  

I only have 3-4 acres of timber and I only want to make that stand more healthy.  I may take down a few trees in a place where they are over dense and stunting each other’s growth, but then by being over dense, those are not big trees.  Some are 30-40 feet tall, but the trunk diameter is about the size of my wrist and I don’t need a log trailer for those trees.

I would love to be in the position of really needing one of those trailers.  They are clever, quality machines.  I love the idea of the built in grapple and I love the fact that they have a winch built in.

Out of curiosity, is yours powered by its own engine or is it powered by your tractor hydraulics?   When fantasizing about one I could never decide if I wanted one to be pulled by my tractor or if I wanted some other vehicle (4-wheeler, UTV, etc.) to pull it while I used the tractor separately.

Look forward to your answer!

Eric
 
Travis Johnson
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Eric Hanson wrote:Out of curiosity, is yours powered by its own engine or is it powered by your tractor hydraulics?   When fantasizing about one I could never decide if I wanted one to be pulled by my tractor or if I wanted some other vehicle (4-wheeler, UTV, etc.) to pull it while I used the tractor separately.

Look forward to your answer!



Mine has its own 6 HP engine and hydraulic system. I did that so I can switch it between my tractor, bulldozer, or SUV; just a pin to connect it to any machine pulling it.

Having its own engine (they call it a powerpack) means you do not put any hours on your tractor, just on a 6 HP engine that costs $99 at Harbor Freight to replace. That was really the decision maker for me on buying the $1600 powerpack or not...less hours on my tractor.

For me...I could not get along with out it, but only about 20% of what I do with it is logging. I grade roads with it haul gravel, put in ditches, dig rock, dig trenches, haul hay bales, cut trees, drill post holes, stretch fence, put up trusses, split firewood, spread seed, etc. I constantly use this thing.

90% of the time I have the dump body on it because with the log bunks, I can only haul logs. With the dump body, I can haul and dump anything, including logs. I cannot get as many logs on, but I can move them around.

Here is a picture that shows the powerpack, it being pulled by my Grocery-getter Ford Explorer, and moving haybales.



DSCN4650.JPG
log trailer lifting hay
log trailer lifting hay
 
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For me many of my tasks are hauling, so heavy duty 26 inch bike wheel garden cart , like garden way.

Getting older and hills always a challenge, so a power cart or wheel borrow is next on the list
Paul
 
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Tractors are a luxury in most 5 acre or less homesteads IMO.
I have a quad to bring harvested firewood 1+ miles from home. I can use it for bringing heavy material uphill.
If, however, I was thinking about getting something for moving heavy material around the homestead, I would look into an electric power wheelbarrow. Should be cheaper, quieter, and access tighter places.
Plus, it could be used as a raised platform.
 
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Travis,

Nice that you can power the hydraulics independent of tractor hydraulics.  You can use any machine that will pull it.  A single downside I had about the little gas engine is the noise level.  This is mostly a trivial concern, but little gas engines are notoriously loud.  I have off handedly wondered if it were possible to power the hydraulic pumps with a battery setup.  Obviously, there is going to be a battery lifetime issue, but it could potentially be a great way to load logs without the noise.

Overall I love the log trailer.

Eric
 
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Paul,

A good garden cart can certainly be incredibly handy—invaluable.  For all my appreciation of a tractor, I would not be without a garden cart.

Eric
 
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Going back to the original question, I suppose that tractors plausibly are a luxury regardless of how much land one has.  Present day Amish are evidence of being able to do large scale farming without any mechanization whatsoever.

Maybe a better question then would be under what conditions would a tractor be practical.  Partially this is answered by how much land one has, but a better answer depends on one’s intended usage and application.

For my purposes, I am required to mow my 5-6 acres of grassland at least once per year.  I used to do this with my subcompact w/4’ bush hog.  The ground was rough and I have some back issues.  Riding on the small-frame tractor for several hours was hell on my back.  I even swapped out the seat for a better one, but it was of limited improvement.  Also, as useful as that little tractor was, it overheated easily mowing through 6’ tall dry grass.  My new tractor is a nice step up.  I swing a 6’ bush hog as opposed to a 4’ model.  The new tractor, being more powerful not only mows a wider swath, but I can do so traveling faster over the ground.  And the bigger tractor frame, combined with the larger tire size and an actual suspension seat is nice and gentle on my back.

Going with a larger tractor is better on the fossil fuel consumption as well.  I used to use 3-4 gallons of diesel to mow my grassland.  The larger tractor uses less than a gallon to do the same job—and it never overheats.

I should point out that for my case my tractor is my primary snow removal tool.  I have about a 450’ driveway and I use the tractor with a 7’ offset blade.  It is amazing at moving snow!  That is pretty much a practical necessity in my case.  

Finally, the loader has no end of very practical uses.  I really only plan on getting 2 more implements.  First is a hydraulic offset flail mower.  A flail mower is an outstanding trail mower and will help control the spread of my living fence.  The other implement is a simple 3 point carry all.  The steel frame only costs about $150, but I can modify it basically as I like.

So I guess for my sake, I do need a tractor (or some other vehicle that is going to burn some fossil fuel) to clear snow and maintain my driveway.  I could hire out the mowing and I did when we owned the land but before we had the house built.  It cost $750/mow.  The 6’ bush hog cost just under $2k.  This is an easy payback period.  The loader is just so useful that I really hesitate to call it a luxury as it gets used on practically every time I use the tractor which is quite frequently.  Plausibly the flail mower is a luxury, but I already have the tractor and a flail mower is amazing at mowing materials that are not fine grass (think weeds, woody/twiggy/branching materials, vines, just about anything organic) and leaving an incredibly fine looking finish.  The carry all is cheap and incredibly handy.

So retuning to the original question, I would have to say that for me some tractor was a necessity.  The first time I had to clear snow from my driveway was after we had lived in the house for about 3 weeks.  We got 10” of wet, heavy snow.  We were planning to leave for the holidays that day and we were snowed in. I did have a small riding mower (JD L120) with a 46” snowplow.  It was completely unsuited to the task at hand.  At best it could move maybe 18” forward before stopped from snow piling up.  I had to get off, take a grain scoop and lower the snow level by hand for about 20’, get back on the “tractor” and then clear the rest of the snow after which the mower got stuck again and I started clearing snow by hand.  It took me 3 exhausting hours to reach the end of the driveway, after which I had to widen the path so as to make it wide enough to get our van through.  By the time I finished, I had cleared out a path just wide enough to move the van through—it actually scraped snow on each side of the van getting out.  I decided right then and there that I in fact needed a tractor before the next winter along with a rear grader blade to go with it.

The addition of the grader blade made clearing snow a 15-20 minute event.  To boot, my wife is a doctor and needs to be able to get to the hospital in the mornings to do rounds.  Our road is a dead-end and frequently is among the last to get plowed.  Often I have to clear not only the driveway but also all the way down to the stop sign at the end of the road (about another 1000’).  The intersecting road is usually cleared by the time I get done with the driveway and 1000’ of road.  

I also clear my next-door neighbor’s driveway which is another 1000’, covered in gravel, has a particularly steep section and gets impassible pretty quickly.  One year we had a good 12” snowfall and my neighbor got stuck trying to get out.  She called AAA to tow her out.  I was finishing up some snow clearing when I saw the AAA truck slowly drive by and the driver was looking down the driveway and just shook his head.  I walked over and asked my neighbor if she needed help, she told me AAA was coming, the phone rang—it was AAA telling her the driveway was impassible—and she immediately changed her mind.  I plowed their driveway ever since and I clear other driveways along the road.

So for me a tractor is a necessity—for snow removal at least.  But once I have the tractor and grader blade, other attachments simply become practical.  Why not mow my own land when hiring out costs $750 s pop?  Other attachments just become easier to justify as the tractor is a sunk cost and attachments easy to justify.  So in the end it really comes down to individual circumstances and requirements.

Anyhow this is my long-winded response and ultimately just my thoughts.

Eric
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Going back to the original question, I suppose that tractors plausibly are a luxury regardless of how much land one has.  Present day Amish are evidence of being able to do large scale farming without any mechanization whatsoever.

Maybe a better question then would be under what conditions would a tractor be practical.  Partially this is answered by how much land one has, but a better answer depends on one’s intended usage and application.


I consider it worth my money to have a tractor because I'm not strong, and I can do things with the loader and three point that I can't do otherwise. For me it levels the playing field, the Amish who do a lot of work with no tractor have horses, and multiple men to do it, not a single female who dreams bigger than she is physically strong.
I am using it to make my land not need tractor input, to make it easily maintainable, right now I need to brushcut, move dirt around, move rocks and level dirt, build ponds, move large amounts of mulch, etc. A lot of that is one time projects, once they are done, that's it, tractor isn't required anymore. I hope to end up with some smaller machine that will provide muscle work for me that isn't as big as my current tractor. I had a little bitty Kubota that I loved get stolen, and the one I could afford to replace it is bigger, much older, and much harder for me to deal with on a day to day basis. I'd love to end up with something small again when the big work is done. I do need a loader of some sort, and that limits my options.
 
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I am not so sure I would say the Amish are non-mechanical, because here at least, they are more mechanical than I am.

In fact almost every one of them has the log trailer that I have, but the ones they have are bigger. They just pull them with hoses instead of tractors. When they need tractors, they borrow mine. Even in their home life they use mechanical means. They do not use electricity, but they use a small gasoline engine that turns their clothes washing machines and propane clothes dryers. And for woodworking or other machinery, instead of using electricity, they fire up the diesel engine out back that has hydraulic pumps that turns the machines via hydraulic fluid instead of electric motors. They even have cell phones...something I do not have.

I shake my head sometimes, but there are far worse neighbors I could have, that is for sure.

 
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You are right about the fuel consumption issue with tractors though. People often complain about the big farmers using all that fuel, but it is actually the opposite. They use big tractors to save on fuel...a lot of fuel.

This photo shows my Kubota Tractor and my families New Holland tractor. It is sitting in a 10 acre field. It takes me (3) days to plow this field up in order to get it ready for planting, or about 21 gallons in fuel. The big tractor does the same thing in 20 minutes. My tractor requires almost three times more fuel per acre then the big tractor.

In case you are wondering, my 24 HP Kubota consumes 2.1 gallons per acre for soil prep, the big 400 HP New Holland consumes 3/4 of a gallon per acre in soil prep.



SDC10579.JPG
tractor size comparison
tractor size comparison
 
Eric Hanson
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Travis,

Fair enough, but the Amish I see somewhat near me have impressive teams of horses pulling equipment across fields.

Anyhow, good points.

Eric
 
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Eric,
I opted for the pallet forks over the carryall. We use pallets and apple bins for hauling stuff and also have used them for moving bricks on pallets. We also built mangers on pallets and have them preloaded and can move them to the cows. This helps with rotation during winter. We have also found using them to pick up piles of branches from pruning. Build the piles then back into them with the forks, lift and go.

We have found the pallet forks much more multi use than a carryall. Which I was looking at first, pallet forks.com has a very interesting carry all there. It is a dump bin mounts to the 3pt, load lift and trip the dump to empty. We almost always have the forks on the back of the tractor. It's the most used tool next to the loader.

The next 3pt item is the transformer hitch from the same place. It is a bale spike, trailer hitch, and house neck hitch all in one. I picked up a log boom, which is a hook beam that fits in the goose neck hitch mount. This item has been more use than I ever expected. Pulling Post, logs, lifting, setting, moving to chicken tractor, it is almost as handy as the loader. They make several options which fit in the goose neck or trailer hitch. Making one tool do tons of work. There is so many tools and stuff for the trailer hitch now too. This is how I mount the electric winch, truck, tractor, or trailer all have 2" receiver for it.

Thanks
Brian
3HR
 
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I'll preface by saying I tend toward using the "Armstrong method" as a default.  That is to say doing things by hand.  But holy cats, the difference a little horsepower can make is astonishing!  I'm pretty strong, but I'm a small woman, and there are a lot of tasks that are just slightly too much for me.  As I get older I'm more aware of how long small injuries take to heal, like strains from trying to move or lift stubborn things, which it seems like life on the farm is mostly composed of.  At 63, as a single homesteader with cattle, sheep, poultry and a bunch of gardening/forestry projects and building jobs, Plus a full time job off farm, I have my hands full.  I have a BCS tiller, and as someone above says, it's a beast, but a great help.  I don't find it that hard to handle, but I mostly use it to work new ground.  I an leaning toward a compromise solution of getting a small, used, older 4wd tractor like a Kubota B2150, with a loader, mower, pallet forks and a small trailer.  Then I can turn compost, haul stuff around, lift and transport carcasses when I butcher, drill post holes, etc., and use other aids like blocks to lift and position logs or that kind of work. I've borrowed this size tractor and found to be a good scale for the size of my operation.  When I need a bigger machine, there are plenty to rent or trade for the hire of.  The thing about planning to use other people's equipment is that everyone needs to do the same work at the same time of year, so it can be hard to schedule. And I find I end up doing things I really shouldn't be doing, because I don't want to stop and go find someone to come over with the machine and do it.  Those marginal tasks are where I think, for me, the real gain of having a tractor on site will come in.  

If you are contemplating your machinery needs a good place to start is to make some lists of what you actually think would use a machine for.  How many hours a week would you use it?  How much time would it grow moss while parked?  Also, borrow or rent some machines to try out.  I'd never driven a tractor before, and there is a learning curve, for sure.  If you can try out different size machines you can see pretty fast what fits your roads and the work you need to do, and if you aren't fixated on a particular solution when you start this process, you can assess as you go and make a coherent decision.  And you can also talk to the people you meet this way and find out what they think about their equipment, what it's advantages and limitations are, and a whole bunch of things that are useful to consider as you decide how to proceed.
 
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Regarding fuel consumption I actually tracked this pretty religiously.

My old L120 riding mower burned just about exactly 1 ga/hr. Mowing the lawn.

My old JD2305 burned about .67 ga/hr.  Eventually I added a rear finish mower and used it to mow my yard after the L120 died.  At that point the fuel consumption jumped up to somewhere between .70-.75 ga/hr

My new JD2038R gets .62 ga/hr.

Another way of looking at it is:

L120.                                              1.0 ga/hr
JD2305 (General work).                    0.67 ga/hr
JD2305 (General work & mowing).     0.75 ga/hr
JD2038R                                          0.62 ga/hr

It gets even better.  While bush hogging, it took my old JD2305 much of the afternoon to mow the fields.  I figured it took at least 4 hours.  So that 4 hours * .67 gallons per hour was at least 2.7 gallons of fuel burned (probably more.  I know that I would always start with a full 5 gallon tank and by the time was done I had a pretty empty tank).

Now I can do the same mowing in only about an hour!  Figure maybe 0.67-0.7 gallons burned for the same parcel of ground.  

I knew I was going to save time by going to a bigger tractor and I would not have been surprised if I saved  *some* fuel.  But if you would have told me that I would be using 1/2-1/4 the fuel I used before, I simply would not have believed it!

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Brian,

Fair points about the pallet forks.  I actually already have some clamp on forks and I use them all the time when I am moving brush.

I figured that I would get some carry all then for the 3 point and customize it to my specs.

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Isa,

Great points!  I am sure that B series will serve you well.  They are great small tractors and they have an array of great attachments.  They can really make your life easier.

Eric
 
pollinator
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A consideration I have not seen yet is the youth/ strength of your family/ friends. I am 71 years young, and I love doing various projects, but my upper body strength is not what it used to be and although I can use a scythe, I'm not so proficient that I could do a full acre. A half acre, maybe.. in a few days.
I'm thinking of planting a 1/2 acre in 4 bands of wheat, buckwheat, oats, sorghum... With different harvesting times, I would be able to spread the hurt a bit, and my chickens would appreciate all this forage. My only problem is I don't have a sickle mower /bar mower. I have a good mower, but it is a zero turn mulching mower and it would take practically the price I paid to get it revamped to a conventional mower with a bagging thingy. [If I give it to the chickens, it does not need to be separated from the chaff]. I don't want to part with this mower because I can enrich our sandy soil by consistently leaving the grass clippings there. Perhaps a second hand mower with a bagger might be OK?
Sickle or bar mowers seem to be as rare as a hen's teeth these days... and expensive for what you get. My hubby used to sell parts to fix them and he told me that the teeth are a pain in the tuckus to change, and in our sandy lot, that would have to happen often. Still, if I could find one, I would not mind having to restore it even.
Another possibility is my Ryobi hedge trimmer, with a bar. I'm musing mounting it on wheels, high enough to not damage it on stones. I might even put 2 of them to work, joined at the tip for stability, bolted to a heavy frame. There is approximately 1" between teeth, so it should make short work of wheat, buckwheat and oats. Not sure how thick sorghum stems grow, though. Since its stems look like corn, the stem could not be cut with a hedge trimmer, I fear.
 
pollinator
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Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote:
Another possibility is my Ryobi hedge trimmer, with a bar. I'm musing mounting it on wheels, high enough to not damage it on stones.



If you try this, please also consider testing the mounting of the hedge-trimmer bar across the face of a walk-behind snow-blower.  I'm thinking the combination would make a pretty good 1 or 2 row dry bean harvester. :-)  Just figure out how to mount a bagger over the chute and beans will come out already threshed.  It will give new meaning to the phrase "It's in the bag.....".

My wife is an active ~70 as well.  Loves our JD4010 (2005 year) with front-loader and twin pedal hydrostatic transmission for manure work and animal feeding.  With bucket forks, it becomes that second help-mate on construction projects....holding studded wall framing up while getting it strait for fastening into place, holding sheet metal up 7 feet high go I don't have to go up and down a ladder a bazillion times, even pushing the framing strait again by force cuz I'm no engineer by a long shot. ;-)  Even at only 18 hp (diesel), with the 5 ft snow blower and 4 ft brush mower, it's the lean, mean work-horse of the property.
 
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Some random tractor thoughts, from experience-

Jen commented- “You can dig basically anything with a shovel, it just takes eternity.”

That sums up the tractor question for me. When I was ‘Jen in her 20’s’, I had the strength and free time to dig holes. Life gets short as you get older, and strength and stamina lessen. I’m still in good physical condition for my age, and far more active than many who are younger, but I don’t much enjoy digging with a shovel beyond transplanting things. I shovel a couple tons of manure and spent brewery grains every other month, and it leaves me sore!
So... I like tractors for what they save in time and what they save in wear and tear on your body. One of the first comments in this thread pointed out that “Your body is by far the most valuable, versatile, and useful tool you will ever find. Treat it well, use it wisely.”
I don’t think a tractor justification has as much to do with your acreage as your needs. And needs change over time. Buying a good used tractor is money in the bank. You can generally sell it for close to what you paid, if you keep up on maintenance. That is far far cheaper than a $300 rental every time you need more than a shovel. The 30-40hp 4wd diesel rigs are worth their weight in gold on a small farm or homestead. I would not go less than 30hp. Yes, 25 may be ‘just barely enough’, but it’s nice to have a little extra when needed. Particularly the hydraulics seem weak on anything smaller than 30hp.
My grandfather logged with horses. He had to feed them every day, whether they worked or not. He had ‘maintenance’ (vet bills, hoof trimming, shoeing) whether they worked or not. He loved the horses, and the pace, and that he could train them to skid logs with just a word or two. It was an art. But art and economics are usually at odds, and in the 50’s he bought surplus military equipment after the war, and never looked back.
I think it’s worth educating yourself about equipment- to be able to maintain it, but also to buy and sell wisely. I owned a 50hp backhoe loader for about 6 years, and in that time dug foundations, put in driveways and wood roads, installed 2 septic systems, and a did bunch of miscellaneous grading and ditching. I loaded logs onto my 1 ton dump truck (another homestead essential), moved gravel... snow... and after 6 years was mostly done with any projects that required a backhoe loader. During those 6 years, I spent about $800 on diesel fuel, oil, filters, a battery, a seat, and a hydraulic hose. I paid $100 twice to have it moved between properties. I sold it for $1300 more than I paid for it at auction, meaning it was essentially free. Interestingly, the guy who bought it was buying land and wanted to do his foundation, septic, driveway, etc. He told me he was going to do what I did, use it and sell it when he was done, and a year later he sold it for exactly what he had paid me for it. So... tractors don’t have to be expensive! Do the research, buy what you think will best fit your needs, pay what it’s worth, and worst case is you decide you don’t need it or it’s the wrong size, you sell it.
 
Travis Johnson
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I think it would be hard to make a go of horse-farming today.

Maybe it is just Maine, but here our property taxes are really high. If a person farms with horses they would have to either buy that feed (which is probably not feasible) or raise the feed themselves. That ends up being a lot of hay in a given year. That means a lot of good farmland dedicated just to hay to feed your horses, and maybe some more for oats. Not only is a person taking that land base out of production, and land they cannot make money on with some crop to sell, they have property taxes to pay on that land, and then all the costs of making hay, including soil amendments and haying equipment.

As the price of property taxes, and all that it takes to make hay, goes up, more crops need to be produced to pay for it all. But if the land base is used up in hay production from the horses, and then land to grow crops in which to sell for monetary needs, more land will have to be bought.

It is a huge catch 22, that just keeps going around.

That is a lot of extra work for the $175 I spend in diesel fuel every year for my tractor.
 
Julie Reed
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“That is a lot of extra work for the $175 I spend in diesel fuel every year for my tractor.”

Agreed, although the numbers are more complicated- what did the team of horses cost? What did the tractor cost? etc, but at the end of the number crunching you’re up against the fact that a tractor is far more versatile even if the overall cost is higher. There are exceptions- I know a teacher who, having half the year off essentially, logs with horses in his free time. People hire him because of the complete lack of damage horses do vs a skidder. People who want selective thinning done, people with wetlands, people with only a few acres. So he makes more money with horses than he could with a skidder. But it’s an uncommon market.
 
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One can lay fiber cable in places like VT, NH with horses than by any other vehicle. When I worked for GTE I was approving invoices for a guy and his team to do just that. His team could go over a hill and holler that a truck would have to follow the road right of way. Would actually save us money. Still, running costs favor the tractor.

Now here in Texas one can get an AG exemption on taxes. Three ways to qualify. One of which is by stock density per parcel. Horses qualify under the rules. So a person running cattle and horses could get qualified under the rules. The money to be saved can be substantial. Would the numbers work out? Don't know but somebody probably has I bet. The thing that I would favor a tractor for is the FEL on the thing. I don't know of an easy way to do what an FEL can do with a horse team.
 
Eric Hanson
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Pearl,

What a shame to have your tractor stolen!  From the sounds of things you had a little BX?  That was the original small diesel tractor and for years, decades, Kubota pretty much had the market to themselves.  I did look very seriously at a BX tractor, but I couldn’t do it probably for the precise reason you lived it.  For me, it was terribly cramped.  The position of the treadle pedal was terribly uncomfortable for me.  But then I stand 6’3” and have long legs.  The JD2305 does not have a treadle pedal, having a pair of side by side pedals instead.  On the Kubota, the pedal was situated such that my lower leg would be pretty much vertical while on the JD my foot could stretch out.  Also, on the JD, the loader control is a part of the tractor, being a stick that came up vertically from the floor while on the Kubota the loader control was a part of the loader itself and reached from the loader hydraulics horizontally out to my hand.  This had two negative effects for me.  First, I like to ride with one hand on the loader control.  On the JD, doing so just put weight vertically down on a vertical stick and nothing happens.  On the Kubota, doing so would make the loader raise up.  Secondly, having the loader stick stretch out horizontally makes entry/exit from the right side of the tractor difficult if not impossible.

Other than those two minor points, the JD2305 was pretty much identical to the Kubota BX.  And if the BX fits you Pearl, then by all means it was the tractor for you.  A terrible shame someone stole it.  I can imagine just how much work it would do for you and how useful it was to have around.  I just loved my little JD2305 and while my new JD2038R is better in just about every respect, it is not for the tiny highly nimble tractor my 2305 was which I imagine was quite similar to your little BX.

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Julie,

I am not trying to quibble, but I have to ask if your teacher friend actually has half the year off?  I am a teacher and I do get about 2 months off in the summer and I always love the beginning of summer.  And I do get a few odd days off here and there.  But the rest of the time I am consumed by school.  


Eric

 
Pearl Sutton
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Eric: B6200, diesel. The loader was added at same point in it's life, wasn't original.
I'm 5 foot 2, so the little tractor worked perfect for me. The big one will be better for doing my heavy work, but I'd like my little one back :(
 
Julie Reed
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Eric,

The school year is 180 days, half of 365, yes? I realize teachers may have a workshop day here and there, but pretty much half a year off in days. That’s how he expressed it anyway.
 
Eric Hanson
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Julie,

My first year teaching was my sisters first year as a full time computer programmer for State Farm Insurance.  She worked a standard 2000 hour work year over a 12 month period.  I worked well over 3000 hours in a 9 month period.  The 180 days does not include weekends.

Summer is about 2 months and there are a few scattered 1 day holidays here and there, but working only half a year is a bit off.

Eric
 
Julie Reed
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“The thing that I would favor a tractor for is the FEL on the thing. I don't know of an easy way to do what an FEL can do with a horse team.”

I love horses, riding is relaxing and peaceful, and a working draft team is really impressive to watch. But horses do pretty much one task- pulling. No FEL, no PTO, no drawbar, no remote hydraulics, no ability to back up equipment easily. No way to attach a winch or backhoe, no lights for working past dusk. My grandfather probably spent half an hour before and after working to mess with harnesses, blankets, drying horses off, rubbing them down... and again, he loved it, but they are just not even remotely comparable to the practicality of a tractor, as least to my thinking. As far as going where machines can’t, to lay fiber optic cable, I can’t quite picture that. I’ve hiked in VT and NH, and I know what the terrain is like, but there is equipment built specifically for that, 4wd articulating with tracks at each corner that will climb near vertical slopes (such as the Ditch Witch RT Quad).
 
Julie Reed
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Eric,

I don’t know how many hours he worked on the days he taught, but adding up weekends, Xmas break, spring break, 3 day weekends a few times and summer vacation he had an equal number of days not in school, not teaching, which left him free to log with horses and raise a few dairy cows. That’s how he explained it to me and it made perfect sense. I’ve heard other teachers comment similarly. The school day is 6-7 hours, I would guess most teachers end up at around 10 with prep, correcting papers, etc? It’s not a job I would want, or could do well. I love kids and am able to teach them things (we homeschooled for a few years) but not in multiples of 25!😳
 
pollinator
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I bow down to the tractor god:

-16" trees 20 feet long follow the tractor like a puppy dog (try that by hand)
-I can put the fallen tree anywhere I want in minutes
-the road can get fixed in a hour instead of 3 people over two weeks
-3 to 5 year old trees can be transplanted in an afternoon
-roofing can be lifted up to me
-rocks can be brought to make my RMH
-clay can be dug to make my RMH
-sand can be brought to my RMH
-I can mix things in the bucket if I need to
-I can haul all the lumber I need to a build site and lift it to where ever it needs to go
-I can push a wall up (or pull it)
-I can get my vehicles unstuck
-I can hookup all kinds of things to the pto like a brush hog or a chipper
-the tractor with a front loader and a back blade can make hugel beds
-the tractor can make swales (much more slowly than an excavator tho)
-my father would tractor lift pigs and cows so we could skin them after we head shot them
-manure can be moved and spread very quickly
-large compost piles can be manipulated very quickly
-sawdust from the sawmill can be put anywhere you want it
-building a wofati is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay easier
-I can get the horse off my foot without being bitten
-I can move buckets and buckets of water in one shot
-you can plant forestry service supplied trees with a post hole digger on the pto
-I can move pallets of stuff if I get forks for the front end

the tractor equates to having 7 people working for me all at once without verbal direction and misunderstanding

so for 5 acres, you should get 3 or 4 other neighbors with 5 acres each and buy a tractor.....or wait until Elon Musk puts out the first electric tractor, or steal one of his electric motors to make your own (his electric motors are to die for, telsa owners beware)



 
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