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Equipment Procurement  RSS feed

 
pollinator
Posts: 484
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
60
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Long story short- I am not moving forward with my evil plans on the property because I have basically one piece of equipment, a small tractor. It has very low flow hydraulics on the front loader (8GPM) which is enough for light loading duties, but not for digging, and would require a second auxillary hydraulic to run a grapple or other equipment on the front. That would drop the flow, and probably put undue stress on the pump. The same fluid is the transmission fluid (not uncommon with small tractors) and would degrade very fast. And the lifting capability on the front loader due to the geometry of a tractor is poor. The safe lifting capacity is very low. There is some premium I am willing to pay for safety for sure.

I really only use the tractor for the loader (I am a wood chip hoarder) and a few times a year for the PTO mower/bush hog. I don't even own the bush hog, I borrow it from a neighbor. My neighbor also has a small tractor with nearly identical specs.

My plan is to de-tractor and get a digging/grappling implement. I am clearing 10 acres, and converting to silvopasture. There are basically no desirable trees on the property of any size. Many of the big trees are precarious frontier species at the end of their life, and they fall routinely in wet windy weather. We had some pretty impressive storms this summer and I just sat on the porch listening to them come down.

This is a little record of my decision process, maybe others can use it.
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
Posts: 484
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
60
bee chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur hunting
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The first decision point in my opinion is hire or do it yourself. I have found that basic clearing here costs $3k an acre, if they take the timber, for a property this size. I have a couple friends who have done that and they ended up with a really useless stump field that soon was overtaken with the same frontier species. To have it cleared and the stumps pulled is double that based on three quotes. That is about the cost of land here! I could literally buy a cleared property for that. Not going to do it.

But for better or worse, my house is here. I wouldn't be able to rotationally graze a distant property, and I can't move the house. I mean we could move to a new house, but we really like this one. Super efficient and in a tremendous location for my commute.

So I have decided to hack away at it. In order to make me efficient enough to get it done short of a geologic time frame, I need something with a grapple. The trees are too big to mulch (which is also really pricey, around 2k/acre for medium trees), so my evil plan calls for many massive hugels to deal with the timbers. Based on my estimates we are talking about 400 yards of 10' hugels. This requires a lot of dirt, but there is plenty of dirt here, I just need to dig it. My plan is to dig a long pit about 6' wide, and offload the burden to one side. Then I can grapple in the timber and compress with big logs, and refill the dirt. The top will get mulched and planted with stuff (I am developing a list of species doing well in this setup and propagating them this winter from hardwood cuttings). The idea is that these will be forage hugels for meat sheep. I assume I will get lots of free snakes in the deal, and voles. I have several resident hawks that are encouraging this plan.

The size machine required to move big timbers is typically in the 7000# and up range. That is a lot of weight on a mini ex boom, so it would be a 10000# mini ex. The nice thing about the mini ex is that the digging is done ergonomically, the bad thing is that the grappling is not as good. The grappling is going to be the bigger time suck by far, because the trees will be felled, removed, and another felled into the space. I have prioritized grappling/hauling. In the meantime I have found a friend who has an old but functional backhoe! This makes me feel better, that can efficiently do digging even while I am felling and grappling. Such a blessing. It is a combo deal that they will also use the pasture for summer forage and let theirs grow for winter stocking. Win win win win win!

The best equipment at my scale is a skid steer or compact track loader. One is wheeled, and has more compaction and less traction, the other is more expensive both initially and in maintenance. This is a major decision I am still working on.

The follow on is whether to hire, rent or buy. I have never in my life driven a skid steer. That being said, most of them made this century are pretty quick to pick up. I am doing most of the felling so coordinating with a hired machine on weekends has proven unlikely.  Renting a competent machine is about $2000 a month, delivered. Not bad! I am looking at three months of clearing based on the other areas I have felled working weekends and on staycation. Since something will go wrong, that is six months. So $12k outlay on the rental. I have been looking at used machines for a while (friend is a diesel mechanic) and can probably get a wheeled loader for $12k with about 2000 hours. That makes the decision pretty easy, because then I can either resell the machine for pretty close to what I paid or if I find it indispensable I can keep it. They are surprisingly small, smaller than my little tractor. 
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
Posts: 484
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
60
bee chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur hunting
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The tracked loaders are generally newer (the technology is more complex), but they are slick! They can be driven across a soggy field with little to no compaction. Much less than my little tractor. The wheeled loaders can have treads on the wheels but this adds traction and does not appreciably decrease compaction. I have minimal elevation changes, so I don't have a strong predisposition. The price point on the tracked loaders is about $10k higher for the same capacity machine around here. The tracked machines operate much better on hills, but wide tires are available which are pretty decent. The difference in wheel base can be significant depending on the model. Some are designed for yard use with a tiny footprint, not at all what I want.

I don't need high flow hydraulics. If I can get a machine with them for a reasonable price, it makes sense. But everyone is looking for them. Standard hydraulic skid steers still put out around 20GPM, which is much better than a tractor.

The HP on the machine is linked to the safe lifting capacity. I have looked at machines over 10k GVW and some as small as 6k GVW. I think about 7000 is the right size. They are roughly 10HP per 1000# GVW, so that translates to a 70HP machine.

The depreciation on a loader is about $10/ hour for a wheeled loader, and maybe $15/hr for a tracked machine. I will probably use it for under 200 hours, but it matters when I look at used machines. They seem to have issues at 5000 hours by and large with the engines (heads especially), and the maintenance on the tracks is the added $5/hr. A set of tracks used on dirt will last at least a couple thousand hours, so about $2/hr. Wheels are maybe half that. I always pay attention to the undercarriage on them, that tells you how hard is was worked. I see one on Craiglist that clearly has been used with salt or lime, and that is a machine you couldn't give me.
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
Posts: 484
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
60
bee chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur hunting
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So at this point I am probably looking at a wheeled loader with wide tires, standard flow hydraulics and around 2000 hours in the 65-75 HP range. That should give me about 3000 hours before any major issues, and provide a machine that is pretty capable. My plan is to sell the tractor and make a lateral move into skid steer ownership. I can share the machine with my neighbor so we have more capability. Other local friends have a heavy equipment trailer and the backhoe, so we are set to Seppify all up in here.

Any ideas? Looking at you Wayne and Travis!
 
pollinator
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A skid steer has been the best investment i have made. My tractor is now a trailer tow vehicle most of the time. Its main function is now watering trees with a pto pump with a trailer that holds a ibc tote.

The skidsteer disturbs the ground, but this can be a positive. If you dont have a mob herd grazing, the skidsteer becomes that. If i work an area, the grass is gone. I throw seeds out and call it good. Mine doesn't have tracks. I couldnt justify the extra expense and heard stories of tracks getting thrown from normal stuff like like driving over a rock or short stump.

These are things i have used it for:
Loading/stacking round bales of hay
Clearing trees and removing stumps (no chainsaw, just pushing them over and out). I don't remove mature trees which it probably would not do.
Digging swales and water retention holes. some as deep as 4ft.
Digging out large rocks
Use it as a scaffold to repair roof (someone lifts me up)
Made a creek channel into my pond. Basically made a "finger" that Paul suggests.
Spreading compost. Dump on ground. Set bucket 1 or 2" above ground to spread it evenly. Woodchips also but not as good cause they clump together.
Dug a trench for a water line with a stump bucket.
Forklift loading and unloading
Skin deer.
Bury a dead sheep.
Theres much more.

The amount of soil it removes compared to a tractor is amazing. Same with clearing underbrush. Its a beast. People say if you have a tractor, you will use it(get one, you won't regret it). I say if you have a skidsteer you will use it more. It digs, it pushes, it works its ass off. I did in one hour what it took me 10+ man hours to do just in clearing brush.

I have no knowledge of equipment "besides " the skidsteer. Travis should.

If i had to get rid of one of mine, it would be the tractor. Google skid steer attachments. You'll be amazed at what you find available. Many of which can be its own side business. Shredding, digging post holes, trenching,  etc. Each attachment is an expense.
 
wayne fajkus
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There are some negatives. That 16ft flat trailer that most homesteaders have on hand.....it wont transport it.
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
Posts: 484
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
60
bee chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur hunting
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Wayne, that meshes with my thinking.

That means I can sell the trailer too. Friends have one identical. We have too much stuff in my little circle of friends and share too little. All my PTO stuff can go away. I never use the auger anyway because it doesn't go straight and I get stuck on roots because the breakout on the tractor is tiny. I have dug it out almost as many times as I have set posts. I can get a front auger for the skid steer.

Selling the tractor will be about a break even. Both are ballpark $10k machines. The implements are a little dearer, but much more likely to use them.

In terms of the tractor and tote carrying, that is a function I am hoping to gain with an electric UTV I picked up. Will not do a massive tank but probably a towable 100 gallon with an electric pump. Most of this stuff I get nonrunning and work on it. Most (but not all) of the time I can fix it, and I am a totally unqualified mechanic. Generally the people have a minor problem and just buy something new to replace it. I have read the thread about bad experiences with UTVs, but the price point I can take a risk. When the batteries die (I'm diagnosing them now) the same charge controller can be reprogrammed for used electric car batteries which are very cheap for their capacity. I'm a huge nerd and would love to have a UTV with better capacity from the lower battery weight. But a project for another time I hope... The other option (much more expensive but more durable) is to bury some supply lines from a new pressure tank off the well.  This is a pretty big undertaking but I can rent a trencher and bury water and electrical for the longer term plan. I have been buying cheap wire spools from auctions in preparation. 
 
wayne fajkus
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Skidsteer auger goes in reverse so you shouldnt get it stuck. I do have a solution to that in my "permaculture hacks that work" thread, in relation to a tractor auger. It saved me many times.
 
wayne fajkus
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Here is one good investment i made because of the dual use. I used this stump bucket to dig a trench ruffly 24" wide and 18" deep. Its for removing stumps but did well, just maybe more time consuming. As i dug it in stages, i just had to be carefull not to turn left or right and have a wheel fall in a trench.

I feel like it was free as i would have spent as much to get someone out to trench it for me. Now that i have it i can more surgically remove rocks since the front is so narrow. It also has reach (from its length) to get in and uproot a cedat tree.

Check this out at Amazon.com
Titan Extreme HD Stump Bucket Tree Scoop Digger Skidsteer Bobcat Attachment Pull https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KWMQU6Y/ref=cm_sw_r_other_apa_pBNSBbJ899R0F
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
Posts: 484
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
60
bee chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur hunting
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Those are available on CL sometimes. I bide my time. I got a very nice grapple and 4 way bucket from an auction. The hoses are generally trashed but thats fixable. On the list is an auger and a stump bucket. I have looked at those serrated tools you just drive into the side of the stump, to cut at ground level. They are cheap because people think you can fell trees with them. They are death traps for that, but I think they would allow me to cut the tree higher, sparing my chains, then flush cut the stump.
 
wayne fajkus
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You see that brush hog/mower? Looks like what a tractor has, but you can lift it to the the top of the stubbie brush and cut it down top to bottom. Amazing stuff. Just not cheap. I also saw a shredder that grinds up trees where they stand.

I have a granite countertop shop. That spurred the purchase. Theres an attachment that crushes the cutoffs  into gravel for roads or whatever. Trying to do something usefull with that waste stream.....
 
Tj Jefferson
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Posts: 484
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
60
bee chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur hunting
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The machines I am looking at will run a bushhog, but I don't want to use that in the field because of the rutting and compaction. They are pretty pricey and seemingly never come down. But the ease of clearing the first couple years of resprouting is almost worth it.

I am planning on doing that with goats but there is some infrastructure before that can happen.
 
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