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(Sub) Compact Tractors  RSS feed

 
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Hello everyone,

I thought I would add a thread here about small and medium frame tractors, their implements and the role they can have for a person drawn to permaculture.

I want to start this thread with a discussion about subcompact tractors.  I did already post about this on the heavy equipment thread, but I think it deserves its own thread and here I will expand a bit.  

Subcompact tractors superficially look like overgrown riding mowers, but these are actually the very smallest frame true tractors available.  To start with, these tractors have Diesel engines.  Most have about 23-25 hp (gross hp, more on that in a minute), but they have vastly more torque than a gas engine of similar size.  What this means in a practical sense is that they will do far more work than a gas engine of the same size (I won’t go into the mathematics here, but from experience I can verify just how important that torque is).  Not only do they do more work, they burn less fuel than a gas tractor.  For comparison, I used to have a 20hp gas riding mower that burned 1 gallon per hour mowing the lawn.  My old subcompact tractor burned 2/3 gallon/hr. while doing more work.  Diesels are powerful, efficient and last a lifetime.

But a tractor is useless unless it has attachments and these small but mighty tractors are designed for a wide variety of attachments.  For starters they are equipped with a basic set of hydraulics.  These hydraulics are designed to, among other things, operate a loader.  My loader was officially rated to lifting 640 lbs, but I once lifted over 900lbs.  The loader is my candidate for most useful attachment.  It can dig, lift and haul loads no person could ever lift and it will happily do this all day long.

At the rear of the tractor is the 3 point hitch that is compatible with a large and growing number of attachments including mowers, ground engaging equipment, and even backhoes and the list goes on.

Rounding out the basic features is the PTO that powers many attachments.  Subcompacts will have both a mid PTO and a rear PTO.  My 24hp tractor had 18Hp at the PTO.  This is used to power things like various mowers, tillers and more.  All of these attachments are then lifted and lowered with the 3 point lift.

So these tractors are quite versatile.  Many spend their time being an overgrown mower with a mid mount mower attached.  They also lift and move with the loader, and do all sorts of things with the rear hitch and PTO.  In addition to being versatile, they are very powerful for their size.  They are also very maneuverable, being the size of a large riding mower.  They are also efficient in their fuel usage.  They are a fraction the cost of a full sized tractor.  In my opinion they are well worth the investment for a homesteader or small farmer with 5-10 acres or so.

I would love to hear others’ thoughts, whether you own one of these machines or are interested in one.  I will follow up later with mid sized tractors and implements.

Best wishes,

Eric
 
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I've had or had access to a "farm tractor" of some sort or another for many, many years. I wouldn't be caught without one.  4wd is a benefit, especially for the smaller compact and sub-compact tractors and a front end loader, to me, is a necessity on a tractor.  I've used mine for many different purposes including as a skidder to get logs out of the woods along with the more traditional uses of a tractor.  They are very versatile machines.
 
Eric Hanson
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Walt,

I couldn’t agree more.  I too used that subcompact tractor to pull fallen logs out of the woods and the loader is to me the most useful attachment.  The attachment I would have liked to have had (and plan to acquire for my present tractor) is a grapple for grabbing logs and picking up mounds of autum olive bushes to take to the wood chipper.

Eric
 
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Eric,

Good synopsis. In terms of HP, before 2013 tractors were widely available in higher HP ranges. Do to the Tier 4 standards now anything over 25HP requires some pretty onerous emissions equipment, which are bulky, expensive and reduce the net HP. As a result, now the bigger tractors that used to have a 35HP engine are getting 25HP gross engines. It's not the end of the world but they can't run larger implements like a 5' bush hog (rule of thumb is 5HP per foot of cut- but that is 5HP at the PTO! A 25HP gross engine will run a 4' cut unless you are really moving slowly.

As a result, you often are not getting more with a bigger tractor. A little bit more lift height, but a lot more frame weight. At this point I would get a smaller tractor!
 
Walt Chase
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TJ, While I do agree with you somewhat, I have to disagree on the get a smaller tractor part.  While tier 4 engines are in my opinion a non-necessary add on thanks to our wonderful EPA, I've heard no true "horror" stories from folks that currently have them.    Smaller tractors are less capable all the way around and are more unstable on uneven ground than a larger tractor.  That definitely would be a personal preference for a purchaser depending on use, property size etc.  For me, in a new tractor I would be looking at a 40-50 horse model.  In an older tractor, ford or MF, JD or similar a 30-35 horse tractor would be most likely enough HP as the frames were IMHO built wider and heavier with a better center of gravity than most of the new tractors are.  I've either had or run everything from an old Ford 8N, 601, MF135, and various JD tractors of different sizes to currently a Branson 3510.  I've never been a fan of smaller tractors.  They seem like too much of a compromise in ability to me.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Walt,

The Tier 4 is not just the catalytic converter, it's also the DEF requirement. People around here don't like it, but people who are in colder places like Alaska I am sure enjoy it freezing at 12F! I know that my tractor (a 2013) has a higher resale than the original purchase price, so someone hates it enough to pay a premium for a used tractor. I was thinking about selling it until I realized why they are priced as they are. I am truly surprised the sentiment isn't strong in Alaska.

I absolutely agree and second your statement about hills/terrain and really any tractor, but especially the lighter ones. They are very tippy, especially when using the bucket. Thanks for bringing that up. That is a potential game-ender.  
 
Walt Chase
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TJ, Maybe I'm looking at the wrong tractors, but I haven't seen one that required DEF. YET....  I'll do some more research on my end locally and see what I can see.  I know its not tractors, but,  I have talked to a couple of folks with new versions of the Cummins engine in Dodge trucks and none of them have complained about the DEF requirement nor  performance.  One guy said he didn't get quite the fuel mileage as his non DEF truck did.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Walt, good point. We were discussing skid steers and trucks in the recent discussions with my neighbors. I don't know about DEF in the tractors, I think its >75HP. But thats totally out of my backside.
 
Walt Chase
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TJ, Not my wheel house either, but I imagine that the DEF requirement is for much larger tractors than the scope of the current discussion.  I know on small engines  (not talking tractors here, but the diesel versions of most small gas engines ie. landscaping equipemnt etc) that they don't require DEF, but do have some type of reburn (don't know if that is the right terminology) going on every so many hours.  I imagine as HP goes up then the emissions requirements do as well.  I just looked at one Mfg website at a couple of 35-50 HP tractors and yes, they had tier 4 engines, no mention of DEF was in any of the literature or on the websit.  Nothing on specs (looked for DEF tank size etc.  
 
Tj Jefferson
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Walt, did some reading since I clearly don't know much about this on the smaller engines (or bigger ones other than my friends' gripes). You are right on. There are even different manifestations of Tier 4 on larger engines, some with the "afterburner", some DEF. It actually is interesting because it is a pretty new technology, and they do get good reviews for emissions with DEF a winner. They apparently have improved power on the DEF-only versions compared to some Tier 3 so not all bad!

You are dead on with the smaller engines, I think <24 HP is exempt (for now).

A good synopsis is https://www.crossco.com/blog/what-are-tier-4-diesel-engine-standards-and-how-do-they-affect-you

 
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The thing that gets me with the tractors in this size, is that they seem very expensive compared to the slightly larger tractors.

I bought a 50hp New Holland, used; I paid perhaps 1/3 more than a comparable 30hp. Certainly not double, yet my tractor is in some ways twice as capable...

The 50-75hp units often share the same body and engine, as mine does. So, my tractor is as heavy as a 75hp tractor, and the engine is the same minus the turbo, and different injectors. Most other parts are shared. I have yet to run out of engine power before finding some other limit.

I consider this tractor barely big enough; it is very much at max load carrying 2000lbs on the forks. I have moved a number of things right at this limit, which would have been quite impossible with a smaller unit. A good load of construction materials, or steel, or a heavy round bale, or a full IBC, would all be either multiple step chores, or impossible, with half the loader capacity.

Moving soil, gravel, etc, goes at about twice the pace as twice the bucket size. Brush-hogging is probably mostly a wash. A smaller tractor might run 1 tine on the subsoiler, but I have my doubts.. moving portable structures I sure appreciate the weight.

I wish for a larger tractor on a moderately frequent basis... the only time I wish for a smaller one is when I fill the tank, but I suspect the increased runtime would eat my diesel savings and give me nothing for the extra time spent...
 
Tj Jefferson
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There is a whole thread here on the virtues of different machines, they all have drawbacks.

As usual, several people I respect have some great input specific to tractor size and capability mixed in there. If I lived in a perfect world I would also go with a 50HP or maybe a little bigger. I am seldom doing something at idle or not maximally using the attachment. The downside is not just the machine, the attachments for larger machines are nonlinearly more expensive after a point. For instance a 6' bush hog is likely 3x more expensive than a 4', despite being only 50% bigger in cut. A 5' is not that different, maybe 25% more, there are just more used ones out there (I have never bought a new attachment so I don't know the price points). The subsoiler/ripper is absolutely true, that is something that is really marginal on a small tractor or even a medium hobby tractor. I was trying to use one to remove roots and its not happening. It would take a really long time to keyline.

The advantage to a larger tractor for me would be a hydraulic output on the rear, as PTO-driven backhoes are just not as robust. The hydraulic pumps on most small/medium tractors are often 8gal/min, which limits the capability of an aftermarket auxiliary hydraulic remote. It would work but be very sluggish. Ironically the bigger tractors generally have only marginally bigger buckets (maybe 1/2 yard), but can be fitted with skid steer quick attach plates, which are neat. That opens up a whole bunch of options, like forks and directional snow plows or bigger buckets. I am very happy with the little mid 30HP tractor and could even work with a size down, but I have a skid steer to do the front attachment stuff.  That monster has a 2/3 yard mulch bucket and a root rake.  
 
Eric Hanson
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TJ, Walt,

Thanks for the quick responses.  I agree with you about the onerous nature of the new tier 4 standards.  I am not convinced that these new devices are really making the tractor more clean, but they do make it more expensive.  

I was commenting on the subcompact tractors (and to a degree the smaller sized compact tractors) as I think these tractors can be ideal for someone with single digit acreage.  True, they will never match the performance of the much larger tractors in the 50-100 hp range, but that is not their purpose.  I found my little subcompact tractor to be extremely useful and could get into places I could never get a larger tractor.  Personally I never found the tractor to be tippy and I did operate a loader and worked on hilly ground—I think this is where operator skill counts.

Perhaps the biggest money saver for these tractors is in the savings on implements.  I acquired a nice collection of implements for that tractor (including a flail mower—awesome, amazing mower) and were I to get the same implements sized for a larger tractor, I would have paid a mighty pretty penny.

I think ultimately their usefulness is going to be determined by the users needs and acreage.  True, a larger tractor will use more fuel per hour, but less per task, such as mowing.  But if you are using your loader as a power-wheelbarrow (which I do very often), the little tractors might be ideal.

I did eventually sell my subcompact (which I absolutely loved) to my neighbor and purchased a larger, 37hp tractor for many of the reasons listed in previous posts (I will do a review later), and it is no doubt a better tractor in most regards, but it is not as maneuverable as the subcompact, nor can it get into small spaces.  Fortunately, I can still borrow the old tractor from my neighbor to do those jobs (he is more than willing to help out).

Ultimately it is a tool and can be very helpful for someone depending on their needs.

Eric
 
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I am stuck with a Compact Tractor, not a subcompact tractor, and here is why.

If I go with a larger tractor, which would be nice, I would have to upgrade all my implements that it uses. That is because my Grandfather had a Ford 900 tractor and so it was not all that big, so all the implements I have are rather small. To replace all those implements, many of them only used a few times a year, would be really expensive. Sure it takes me 3 days to plow 10 acres with a single bottom plow, BUT since I only do that every few years, it is better to just spend the extra 2 days doing it, then it would be to upsize on everything.

But downsizing to a subcompact is out of the question as well. They are nice machines for what they are designed for, but get on your knees and look at the underside: they have NO GROUND CLEARANCE. It is bad enough on my compact tractor, I definately cannot do anything with a subcompact tractor in the woods, or any unsightly spot.

I am not saying they are useless, I am just saying for me, I am kind of stuck with what I have. (Unless I can somehow manage to get that Hitachi 1200 excavator I really want).
 
Eric Hanson
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Travis,

In your case I totally understand how you are basically locked into the tractor you have.  As you point out,  the implements can add up to as much if not more than the value of the tractor itself.  Given that you inherited these implements, I would likely have done the same thing as you.

I do understand the low ground clearance issues, but I have to disagree about operating in the woods.  I cleared out my woods after it was hit by a devastating storm that felled numerous mature oaks and hickory’s.  I did back into the woods with an attached 4’ rough cutter SLOWLY and cut open trails.  I then used these trails to access fallen logs to pull out with the little subcompact.  Mind you, it took time, effort and skill to operate, but isn’t that a part of the Permies ethic?  I am not trying to argue for the sake of arguing, but I pulled off some pretty big tasks with that tractor.

Also, while a subcompact is certainly NOT the tractor for every person or homestead, it may be perfectly appropriate for some, especially I would think for those with smaller acreage or just need that extra mechanical oomph.  I would say any tractor is better than none when you need a tractor.  When I bought mine, I really did want a bit larger one, but prices and income dictated otherwise.  That tractor served me faithfully from 2005 to 2018 at which point it began providing faithful service for my neighbor who loves it.

In the end I did buy a larger tractor and am in the process of getting new implements as well.  Still, I have no complaints about that old tractor and will explain why I made the upgrade in a future post.

Thanks for the input.  I started this thread hoping I could help someone else thinking about getting a tractor (as Permies has helped me so much with many of my projects).  These discussions are great and I think will be illuminating for some.  Just to reiterate,  no, a subcompact is not the tractor for everyone, but it does have a place.

Thanks again for the discussion and input, I hope that they continue.

Eric
 
Dillon Nichols
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I would be way more open to a smaller tractor if I had a skidsteer! Even if I had the money, I suspect it would get stuck on my very soggy property, and I hear the tracked ones are damned expensive to maintain, like anything with tracks...

The points about the implements certainly merit consideration. The 45-75 horse range works well for me on this front as I have found great availability of used implements, but I've seen plenty for smaller tractors as well. The next size up, stuff that needs 80hp on a larger frame, and really wants 100+, is a much bigger step up in price. Also less fun to move; I picked up no less than 6 implements with a pickup and 14ft flatbed in a single trip to Vancouver. Since this trip included over 400$ of ferry tickets I really needed to make it count!

I also have a couple farming friends 100km away with 50 and 65hp tractors. They have different implements, and I know I can access theirs in a pinch.

My tractor has the skidsteer q/a, I appreciate the flexibility but I doubt I'll manage to own more than 5 front end implements while I already have about 10 for the three point and can think of a couple dozen more I'd like... ie, it wouldn't be the end of the world to need to make up custom mounts to suit a less common system like the older Deere tractors had.

I don't have a backhoe for mine, I don't think I'd trust one on the three point.. unless I found one meant for a smaller tractor, to be safe. The TLB style tractors with a proper subframe are a different story.. I bought an older exacator instead, and expect to spend a lot more time getting proficent with a wrench.
 
Eric Hanson
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Dillon,

Regarding the 3pt backhoes, you are exactly correct.  Any tractor with a backhoe should have the appropriate subframe.  I included the backhoe in the section about the 3pt hitch mostly as a general statement about rear implements.  For the record, I probably phrased this wrong, but I was trying to demonstrate that overall flexibility of a little tractor.

Regarding the skid steer quick attach (ssqa), it would certainly be nice if there was only one standard for attaching to a front end loader, but as far as I know there are at least 3–SSQA, John Deere QA and Kubota pin on attachment.  Personally I have the JDQA, but I only have one attachment—the bucket.  However, I plan on my next attachment being a grapple.  I have played around taking the bucket on and off and the JDQA works well—it’s just not compatible with the dominant SSQA.  Hopefully this will not matter as the grapple I plan on getting is available in a JDQA.

Nice discussion on the merits of a larger tractor, and congratulations on scoring a nice catch of implements to go with it.  I recently acquired a 7’ grader blade for mine to maintain my 450’ driveway and clear the occasional heavy snowfall.  Next stop, the grapple!

Best wishes,

Eric
 
Travis Johnson
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I understand the value of a tractor in the woods, but in my opinion the tractor is really the dumb part of the set up; the winch is what makes working in the efficient. Skidder, bulldozer, even my farm tractor...all it really did was get the winch close to the wood, and the winch brought the trees in. Once a person gets one, they will wonder how they ever got along without one. I can say that with authority because I tried, but until I put a winch on my bulldozer, it was not an effecient way to log at all. I had all kinds of traction, i just could never get enough trees bunched together to go out with a twitch, and heaven forbid I ever dropped a tree, I could not run the winch back and pick up a lost tree. Do that twice on a turn of 5 trees and 40% of your trip is wasted.


Of course with a subcompact and a winch, its low ground clearance would not be an issue at all if a person went in and grubbed out main logging trails first with a rented bulldozer. Up until 2 years ago when I was still cutting virgin forest, I would always do that, even for the skidder. I would take the bulldozer (my own in my case) and build nice skid trails so that I could move wood faster without bouncing over stumps, rocks and cradle knowles. That helps with breakdowns too. Tractors get the best traction when all four tires are on level, solid ground.


But I have come to the conclusion that a person cannot buy a perfect tractor. Skid steers are nice, bulldozers are great, but all have limitations. I figure my only chance at having THE PERFECT TRACTOR is to build one myself...which of course I have little money and am very sick! DRAT.

 
Travis Johnson
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In a strange turn of events, I ended up with this guy last week. Its a nice tractor, but completely worthless to me. No winch, too big, tires instead of stracks, a weak blade...what I can do with it is almost nothing, so I am selling it...cheap...and paying my property taxes.

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I've got a little Mitsubishi MT180 which stands for 18 hp and many riding mowers are also 18hp but there's a world of difference as you say. I also have a couple of old Sears Suburban garden tractors. I don't call them riding mowers because they have a high and low range for the transmission and they will literally pull a full size truck on level ground and mine are only 12hp though later, they went on to make them in 14, 16 and 18hp. They have a three point hitch, Cat 0 and it's a lever, not hydraulic lift. Still, I did a ton of work with it, including making my driveway with the grader blade. The "PTO" they have is merely a couple of extra pulleys on the engine that runs things like a mower. Those old garden tractors from the 50s, 60s, 70s and maybe a few from the 80s, are heavy duty and can do a lot, plus you can get one a lot cheaper than a bonafide tractor. On one of two I have, I put dual rear wheels with chains on them and plowed the snow off of the driveway, pushed large piles of brush. People have put small hydraulic pumps on them and built a front end loader. The Sears' weigh 750 lbs and has a heavy 3/16" plate frame unlike a riding mower which is thin stamped out sheet metal.

Of course the Mitsubishi has rear tires that are a lot bigger and it has the hydraulic 3 point hitch, Cat 1 (Category 1) and the real PTO. It's got a little 3 cylinder diesel that as you say, sips fuel. I can mow all day on 2 gallons of fuel or if I'm just driving it around toting stuff, 3-4 days. The only implements I have are a rear mount finish mower and a dirt scoop aka poor man's loader. I use the tractor for carrying stuff as much as anything else. Usually with the dirt scoop but on a lot of items, like my wood stoves, I can just back up with the lift arms under the stove, run a chain from where the top link mounts on the tractor to the top of the stove, lift and drive away. I also use it for moving trailers around the yard. With the dirt scoop, I can throw my chain saw in and head back to the woods, cut down a tree, get the scoop under one end, lift it and set something under it to prop it up to cut up firewood sized pieces, fill the dirt scoop with wood and bring it right to my back door if I want. I can drag huge logs, 16" dia x 24 foot long. I'm building a stone foundation for my shop(future barn) and use the dirt scoop to haul big rocks, like 300 lbs big. I've moved an engine on an engine stand by running a pipe through the lift arms and the sq tubing at the bottom of the stand and running a chain to the top, like with the wood stoves, picked it up and moved it like it was nothing. I do the same with my engine hoist. Bought a fridge from my neighbor a couple of miles down the road. Went down with the tractor, tilted the fridge back and got the lift arms under it, used a strap up high instead of the chain and drove home.

The next thing I want is a set of forks. Pallets are free and a small pallet like 3' x 3' would be a perfect fit and can have sides put on it for a 3x3x3 tote. My tractor doesn't have the mid PTO and while there is a place to tap into the hydraulic system, I haven't done that yet. Some day, I'd love to get a hold of an MT180D, the D means 4x4. The other thing I use the tractor for a lot is toting water. We don't have a well yet so I mounted a 225 gal tank, a generator and sump pump on a trailer and use it to go down the road to a spring fed creek. There's quite a hill to climb on the way back and it's a gravel road. The tractor weighs 1100 lbs and the water, gennie, trailer weigh about 2000 lbs. Took a couple of tests to get the tongue weight right to be able to get up the hill without tires spinning.

So yes, if you can get a deal on a sub-compact or compact tractor, they're handy to have and a good set of attachments is worth as much as the tractor, especially since the smaller attachments are not as plentiful as the standard sized.

If you can't swing a small tractor and happen to run across a deal on an old garden tractor, those will do a ton of work too. There's even some with a PTO that comes out the back that will run a tiller. Snow blowers and snow plows are common attachments for them also. The Ford LGT series had diesel engines and rear PTO and I think some of the old Power King brand had PTO as well. Again, implements/attachments are the key.

I took a bit of a chance in buying my tractor as it hadn't been run in 4 years so I didn't hear it run before I bought it. The seller swore it ran when parked so I bought it for $900, no attachments. Got it home and spent a day getting it to run and spent another half a day getting the lift arms freed up. Not too long after that I was lucky enough to find the 4 foot finish mower. A 5 foot mower or brush hog would be too big for 18 hp and the 4 foot mower was blue and white, just like the MItsubishi so they look like they belong with each other.

Since I know it can pull a ton(literally), I plan on building a long narrow trailer for hauling firewood up from the back 40. The axle will be about 2/3 of the way back on the trailer to give me plenty of tongue weight which gives traction.

I even made a chicken plucker for it. I borrowed the gear box from the finish mower and ran it backwards so it was geared down instead of up. Mounted the bottom plate with plucker fingers and put a plastic barrel with more finger on it and she plucked away at a slow idle.

For firewood, I want to build the long narrow trailer I mentioned and would also like to put a splitter on it. Then I could go cut a tree down, cut it up, split and toss in the trailer. Bring it up and stack it. Right now I'm cutting down, cutting up, hauling as much as I can in the little dirt scoop, which is about the same as a wheel barrow, and throwing it in a pile until I have all I need and then borrowing a splitter. Then split it and move it again.

I've got some curved pipe from a hay shelter and plan on using it to make a movable high tunnel. I'll be able to move the tunnel with the tractor and also prep the beds and lay plastic mulch with it.

There's quite a few brand names. Kubota of course, Mitsubishi (formerly Satoh), various brands with a Yanmar diesel which are good. One I would stay away from is the Cub Cadet Low Boy. They PTO on them runs backwards so you have to use an adapter for all generic implements and most of them came with no low range and won't go slow enough for plowing.
 
For garden tractors with a PTO which is an actual spinning shaft out the back that will run a tiller, there's Power King, Bolens, Ford LGT series, Simplicity and others.  

The scary thing about buying one of these old tractors or garden tractors is lack of replacement parts. There's one company that has some NOS(New Old Stock) parts for my Mitsubishi but if they don't have it, I'm screwed. I can buy a starter, alternator(I think) and a waterpump off of ebay but that's about it. No internal engine parts unless that one company has it. Same with hydraulic parts, brake shoes, clutch etc etc. Tires? That size isn't made any more and I have dry rotted turf tires, probably original to the tractor which is a 1981. I would have to get some sort of newer rim and maybe cut both sets of rims up and weld my centers into the outer rim from the newer rims just to be able to buy new tires. The only reason I can get a waterpump, starter etc is that they put that same 3 cyl diesel engine in a lot of fork lifts.

There's a company that sells kit to repower a lot of the older garden tractors with newer, more fuel efficient engines.

The old Sears Suburban garden tractors I have, I can pretty much get anything for, used, because they made a lot of them and people part them out on ebay. If you want a good carburetor, expect to pay a few hundred for one. I've seen them go for $500.

As the OP mentioned, sub-compact tractors are very manoeuvrable and will fit a lot more places. Everyone loves the old Ford 8N and 9N and they're a common sized tractor for general small farm use but I wouldn't be able to drive everywhere on my property without cutting a path with that size tractor. My Mitsubishi is 43 inches wide.

One note on the really old stuff like the 8N. The lift arms lift but won't hold mid way. It's either all the way up or drop it and chains are used to adjust how far you want to drop it. With my Mitsubishi, I can set the lift arms at any height and it stays there wit the hydraulics. There's other little quirks with the old ones and some are safety related. There's hardly anything between a brush hog and you. With brush hogs having an open front, chunks and rocks can fly out and hit you.

There are some things a sub-compact will have that a garden tractor won't like independent rear brakes and of course the lift arms and standard PTO shaft size and the ability to lock the axle which makes both rear wheels drive wheels instead of just one aka makes it a posi.  

When I was looking for a tractor, I also searched for a Ford LGT 125, 145, 165 (12hp, 14hp, 16hp) as I think those are the most able of garden tractors. Front End Loader, Backhoe and the Tiller were three of the factory implements made for them. I'd still get a garden tractor if it had a loader because those aren't easy to put on and take off and they get in the way if you leave them on. Neither a garden tractor or a sub-compact is going to just dig a hole but they'll scoop up gravel and turn compost plus you can lift and haul stuff with them.

tractorbynet and yesterdaystractors are good resources for info.
 
Eric Hanson
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Travis,

You hit the nail on the head when you stated that there is no “perfect” tractor.  When I bought my first tractor I wanted one that was about 80% “perfect” for 90% of my needs.  Like most things in life, a tractor is an exercise in compromise.  Mine was not perfect for anything & there was always a better machine for any one of its tasks.  But the little tractor was fair on the budget (another compromise) and would do ALL of the tasks asked of it.  Ultimately it saved me a lot of work.

I also agree with you about the winch.  While clearing my fallen timber, I wished many times I had one.  Instead, I used the 4’ brush cutter and later a flail mower (amazing piece of equipment.  I promise to do a review soon) to cut access points, then used the loader to maneuver the log and finally the 3pt hitch to lift and drag the log out of the woods.

One of the subcompact tractor’s strengths in the woods was its nimbleness.  It was narrow enough to get into confined areas and maneuverable enough to get just about any place I wanted it to go.  The area was hilly and full of young trees I wanted to remain intact and the subcompact worked great but did require skill to operate.  

I hope my new tractor can operate in the same area but I am certain that a winch would help tremendously.  I have looked at a couple of skidding winches and may try one if I get really serious about any forestry maintenance again.  Thanks for pointing out the benefits of a winch.

I’ll conclude by saying that compromise is important and in this case perfection is the enemy of good enough.

Thanks again Travis,

Eric
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:
One of the subcompact tractor’s strengths in the woods was its nimbleness.  It was narrow enough to get into confined areas and maneuverable enough to get just about any place I wanted it to go.  The area was hilly and full of young trees I wanted to remain intact and the subcompact worked great but did require skill to operate.  



I've agreed with Travis' take on tractors in prior threads and won't expand on that here.  I also agree with Eric H's comments about using a (sub)compact in close quarters.  My JD4010 (2005 issue, 18 hp) might be considered a subcompact due to the engine size, but the 3-pt is actually category I, not category 0.  My wife uses it.... A LOT!....for getting into tight livestock stalls and other places a larger, more unwieldy tractor can't go.  With the front-wheel assist, the extra traction is great and necessary for its use in winter with the 5 ft snowblower off of the back.  The Kubota is an L3200....so bigger, more stable, more powerful, a bit more thirsty, but amazingly efficient (3-cyl) for the work done.  Both the JD and the Kubo have front loaders.....one perk of the latter brand being that the newer loaders take skidsteer attachments without needing a converter plate.  All of this has been expanded on more in the Large Equipment thread and needs no additional mention here.

A few extra links here on grey market offerings for those so inclined:

https://nelsontractorco.com/gray-market-tractors/

http://www.fredricksimporting.com/history/

Grey market tractors are a bit of a gamble and one would want to enter into buying one with (a) eyes wide open, (b) good mechanical skills, and/or (c) a good friend.....with good mechanical skills.

That said, our F15D Yanmar (19 hp) cost $6,000.00 (used....USD) and came with a nice rear-mount tiller.  It did not come with a loader, although many are equipped after the fact with them just fine.  The Yanmar engines need no introduction to the tractor owner and have been reliable power-plants in the smaller Deere tractors for years.  Yanmars aren't the only grey-market units around and as one is deciding on the price-performance aspects of their farmstead, there may be several offerings in your area worth looking into.  One perk on the F15D not found on any of our "domestic imports":  3-speed PTO.  The mid-range gear on the PTO allows me to operate our 7kW PTO generator without winding the engine up to 3000 + rpm.....hopefully reducing wear on the engine.  The Yanny's come in 2wd and 4wd...the latter noted by the "D" at the end of the model name:  http://www.fredricksimporting.com/product/

Just an FYI for the discussion.
 
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I bought a tractor this year that I think many people overlook, and that is 2 wheel tractors.

I was looking around online at my local dealer who does consignment for people and there was a Used BCS 2 wheel tractor for sale for $500. I bought it the next day and brought it home. That is a good deal. Mine came with a mower and tiller, but I also welded a snowplow blade on it for gravel/snow. At some point I would also like to build a sulky for it as well, just because it sucks to always walk behind (and I am lazy). I also want to buy the tracks that bolt on to this.

I build my own implements so there really is no limit to these machines, though a person who does not fabricate can find PLENTY of attachments. Want to mow, rake and bale hay for livestock? All three pieces of equipment NEW, will cost $9000. Yep...a lot of money, but those same piece of equipment, as a package deal for a Kubota tractor will cost $27,000!! That is a package deal too! I have seen people convert these over to electric motors for work inside greenhouses, as well as battery banks for cordless operations. Honestly, do a search for BSC attachments and a person will be amazed at what they can do.

Do not think these things are glorified rotortillers either, mine has positraction, and is all gears. In high gear I can not run fast enough, and in low gear it will crawl over a snowbank and keep going.

I am not sure what the cut off in terms of acres would be...10-15 acres probably, and depending on what a person does with them. But I really think they are undersold in the USA.

BCS Attachments

 
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Not that I have ever been Brand Loyal on anything, but one tractor I really liked was the BCS articulated tractor.

Okay, so I admit I have an out-of-control articulated-tractor-fetish, but for good reason; they are incredibly stable on steep hillsides, and they have incredible traction. I say the following for informational purposes, but on steep ground, when making turns, you can steer the tractor uphill, extending its wheelbase so that it will not flop over, and not only does it get more traction because of equally sized wheels, because it steers by hydraulic force, a person can "duck walk" the machine in mud, forcing it to get a better bite.

But this tractor is not too big for my implements, and has good ground clearance as well. It can take a loader, and yet has a 3 point hitch.

Despite having a BCS 2 wheel tractor already, I would be a little gun-shy to buy it only because I am not sure about pars availability, but today...with the internet...I do not know if it is as big an issue as it used to be.

This tractor does not show a loader, but it can take one.


BCS.jpg
[Thumbnail for BCS.jpg]
 
Eric Hanson
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John,

I think your 4010 is a great example of how even a small tractor can do a lot of work.  Great example.

Travis,
Agreed.  Two wheel tractors are real tractors, highly versatile and generally under appreciated in the US.  I once thought about getting one for clearing underbrush where my tractor had trouble.  Solid machines, but their implements are not exactly cheap.  Still, these tractors might be ideal for someone here at Permies.  I would think that people here at Permies would really appreciate the two wheel and subcompact tractors as they are quite easy on the soil.

Eric
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:Not that I have ever been Brand Loyal on anything, but one tractor I really liked was the BCS articulated tractor.

Okay, so I admit I have an out-of-control articulated-tractor-fetish.....



There are worse things to have fetishes over, Travis!.... ;-)      

WOW!....I had seen 'mini'-articulated tractors before but was not aware that Ferrari badged these as BCS.  Now I'm both chuckling and drooling.  The articulated tractors locally have pretty much replaced all of the large scale ag workhorses on regional farms (mostly Deere, Case, New Holland, etc) and I remember thinking it would be interesting to see a scaled down version for the smaller farm.  This link seems to show the offerings (..?..):  http://www.ferrari-tractors.com/current.htm    So I'd only ever seen the 2-wheel, walk-behind BCS tractors sold in the US.....does BCS market the articulated units here?  To be honest, except if I were in real need of cultivating/mowing, I can't see a specific need for these that couldn't be accomplished with a regular styled tractor, but I like the design for all of the reasons that you mentioned.
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:John,

I think your 4010 is a great example of how even a small tractor can do a lot of work.  Great example.



Yeah....when I purchased it, I knew that my wife was going to use it a lot, so I got it with twin-pedal hydrostatic (no shifting gears) and an easy to use loader.  For its apparent high center of gravity, it's remarkably stable if operated 'smartly'....any loader used improperly will tip you over quickly otherwise.  Our property is flat and the opposite of rocky....much deep soil and heavy clay.  But being along a river, the unit is great for pulling felled deadwood back for cutting into firewood and the PTO runs mowers, the snowblower, and occasionally a pump for moving water from the river to the garden if needed.  Even with the stability, uneven ground made it too bouncy and swaying for my wife's comfort zone and the Kubota evened out all of that with its size and wheel-based, so she's fine mowing with that now.  I lump them both into the realm of 'appropriate technologies'.....
 
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John Weiland wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:Not that I have ever been Brand Loyal on anything, but one tractor I really liked was the BCS articulated tractor.

Okay, so I admit I have an out-of-control articulated-tractor-fetish.....



There are worse things to have fetishes over, Travis!.... ;-)      

WOW!....I had seen 'mini'-articulated tractors before but was not aware that Ferrari badged these as BCS.  Now I'm both chuckling and drooling.  The articulated tractors locally have pretty much replaced all of the large scale ag workhorses on regional farms (mostly Deere, Case, New Holland, etc) and I remember thinking it would be interesting to see a scaled down version for the smaller farm.  This link seems to show the offerings (..?..):  http://www.ferrari-tractors.com/current.htm    So I'd only ever seen the 2-wheel, walk-behind BCS tractors sold in the US.....does BCS market the articulated units here?  To be honest, except if I were in real need of cultivating/mowing, I can't see a specific need for these that couldn't be accomplished with a regular styled tractor, but I like the design for all of the reasons that you mentioned.




It interests me because it is short in height. This may change if I sell my house and barn, but my current sheep barn is pretty short. It had to do with an existing roofline and an existing concrete floor, but it requires a short in height tractor to do so. This articulated tractor would work in that barn.

Again, I am mentioning specific-to-my-farm-only issues, but that is why the articulated tractor had a bit more appeal to me then a standarded shaped tractor. That is: it would work in my barn, be less tuippy on steep hills, and have more traction.

I do not know if it is even available in the USA though. Most likely there are a few here by now. I could see where BCS would have brand-loyal owners who would insist upon this tractor.
 
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This is my low clearance barn. I could clean out with my small John Deere 350D bulldozer, but I would literally take out most of the lightbulbs with my head going down through the barn if I did not pay attention to head placement.

DSCN3770.JPG
[Thumbnail for DSCN3770.JPG]
 
Eric Hanson
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John Paulding,

Thanks for the expanded response.  I think your post thoroughly summarizes the usefulness of smaller tractors and is highly appropriate to those who own a few acres and need a little bit of extra mechanical help to manage their land.  While it is tempting to look for larger tractors, budgets get in the way, and the smaller tractors might be easier on the land.  Thanks for the input.

Eric
 
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If I sell my house and barn, I will inevitably build a new barn, but am actually thinking about going tractorless for the tractor work in and around the barnyard.

They make a new gantry tractor that has my interest because I would not have to start up a tractor from November to April when the sheep were in for the winter. You can see the gantry tractor in the attached video. However I am not sure how it would compete with a small tractor. It is not as versatile because it can only go where the tracks go (and if you watch long enough, you will see it goes from barn to barn, or in my case barn to silage and manure pit). but to its advantage it uses low cost electricity instead of diesel fuel, would inevitably have a long service life, and be able to feed, clean up, and bed sheep from overhead. That would mean I would not have to shift sheep and gates around like I would with a tractor. I could just swoop down from above, and work around the sheep in their pens.

I put some thought into this, and think a homemade version could be easily built using a mini-excavator with a blown set of tracks and engine (the latter would be replaced by an electric motor to run the hydraulic pump). Or alternatively, a manlift chassis could be used, with the implements added onto the end of it. Again the engine would be replaced with an electric motor.

 
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Eric;

Nice; I've got a 7' blade but it's very light duty, I hope to find a stouter one and sell this one before I snag a root and trash the blade...

I know the newer kubotas are using the ss q/a now. Not sure about the Deeres. I got pretty used to the deere pin setup running my friends tractor, I like it fine, and it wasn't too hard to modify a bale grapple intended for some other system to fit it. Going from the ss system would be harder tho.


I have a grapple, but it's not as nice as I thought. It has a solid flat bottom and then two separate grabbers, so I can dig a bit as well as grab things. To my dissapointment I can usually carry more brush on the 4ft forks; the grapple is nowhere near big enough to grab a good sized pile without the ability to jab into it first. I suspect one made with slats would be more helpful, but figure if I add slide-on 'forks' to this one, it will be much better for brush and still handle logs well.

Tbh if I was to do it again I would look for an extra sturdy
set of forks, and find or fabricate a third fork for the center. Then worry about adding a grapple to the top bar when I found a deal on the steel and rams.


My chipper is pto drive, so of course now I 'need' another machine to help feed it... someday.


John, great post, enjoyed the examples of what your machines have done.

I've seen some neat fold-out forks mounted in/on smaller tractor buckets. I have seperate implements, but I do wonder if the presumably somewhat clumsier combo implement would be worth it just to be able to have the forks on hand without removing the bucket.

I've often been jealous of the multi-speed pto, seems like a no brainer and I'm baffled that it's not standard for all tractors by now.


Travis; as always, enjoyable posts, great info, and great to see you here.

I would love a logging winch for my tractor. I don't see them used, ever, in my area. I've only seen one in person at all, and it was emphatically not for sale. I suspect there may be so many old skidders floating around this part of the world that they keep sales of these attachments down..

That gantry system is disgustingly cool. I'm picturing running those tracks through barns, out over a composting collection area, and through a big workshop to act as a shop crane... over a parking compound to load/unload trucks and trailers, through a storage building... then on through a log storage/sorting area and sawmill... so much potential. Definitely better suited to buildings built with it in mind though.

If you've thought very far into making one from a mini ex it would be interesting to hear about.
 
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I put a lot of thought into building things because there is a sort of perfect storm here: we generally do all that we can for ourselves, my father is a mechanical engineer, and I am a welder/machinist by trade. About 90% of stuff I can figure out, but when it comes to geometry issues, I ask my father for help. He in turn, cannot weld to save his life. In another lifetime perhaps, we would have had a implement manufacturing business, building implements for sub and compact tractors. I would like to compare myself to RG LeTourneau on this, who made simplified, functional but massive equipment. I love his style, but I prefer to do big jobs with small equipment...

This is an extremely hard topic to continue to post on though, only because it is not supposed to be about implements, yet my "ideal" subcompact tractor would be a marriage of my Walleinstein Log Trailer, and a machine to pull it.

For those that do not know, my log trailer is far more then a log trailer, because it has its own hydraulic system, it can load logs via its grapple, but also can mount a backhoe, post hole driller, upside down wood splitter, feller buncher, boom mower, etc. That is just the boom aspect of it, the machine itself can haul logs and comes with a dump body to haul gravel and other materials. I even mounted a grader blade on it. I have not even begun to run out of ideas on what this machine can do.

That is because I think I can improve on it by a lot. Currently I can tow it behind anything with a hitch; bulldozer, tractor or pick up truck because with its own engine and hydraulic system, it just needs to be pulled. But all have limitations and benefits. The bulldozer can haul wood out in two foot deep mud, but only the truck can haul that same load down the road at 50 miles an hour, and my tractor can jockey around in tight spaces with it.

But I think I would like to make its own tractor to haul it. Insert out of control articulated tractor fetish here. I am thinking of a tracked machine, with front loader and a five in one bucket. If you have never heard of one, that is because I devised that style of bucket myself. But to make it be able to handle standard three point implements, I would have a drop in brackets off the back stakes of my log loader and the hydraulic boom lifting the implements up and down. To allow pto three point hitch implements, a sperate engine could be dropped in to power them.

Overall I think this would be a pretty good machine. Tracked on the front, articulated, with the end on its four high floatation tires with walking beam suspension.  It would also be small and nimble. And yet it would be incredibly versatile. It would look kind of like this, but with a front loader, and able to operate 3 point hitch and pto implements.


 
Eric Hanson
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Travis,

Your log trailer is truly an awesome machine!  I wish I had one, just for the overall coolness if nothing else!  I have seen these before and wondered how I could possibly justify one.  One of those would certainly have made my job of clearing out the woods a lot easier.  I am liking the idea of your perfect tractor, but I am also wondering how much tracks and Articulated steering would tear up ground?  Anyhow, nice post.  I promise to start an implements section soon so you can really unload there!

Eric
 
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Dillon,

You made an important and under appreciated point regarding the overall sturdiness of your 7’ blade.  For my first tractor I needed a blade for snow removal, was short on funds so I bought the cheapest one I could find.  $150 at the local farm store and in 3 years it certainly looked the price.  I soon found out I needed it for driveway maintenance as well but it was minimally effective there.  It has had to be repaired since I bought it.

When I bought my current tractor I did so on the assumption that it would be the last tractor I ever owned.  Therefore, as I acquire implements, I go the extra mile and buy quality.  My 7’ blade will not only angle, but tilt and offset as well.  I just love the offset function!  I actually use this more than the angle function.  I have only had the blade a little over a week, but I love it.  It’s very sturdy, solid and heavy.  It does not jump and skip while grading my gravel driveway like my other one did.  My first blade was basically a snow removal tool and it never let me down there, but this new blade is so much more versatile.  The offset function really allows me to grab materials from well off to the side and drag them into the center of the driveway.

I would highly recommended this blade to anyone in the market, but I am not certain the Permies policy about using brand names/acting as an advertisement.  If someone can confirm for me that using the brand name is ok, then I will enthusiastically divulge the brand and endorse the blade.

Thanks for the post Dillon.  You make a great point about the importance of buying quality.

Eric
 
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Just to me clear, that is not my machine, just an overall concept I thought of.

My log trailer is this one,  pictured here with my bulldozer pulling it. Maybe I should start a thread on just that machine as it has so many attachments to it now, and many more to go.




DSCN4302.JPG
[Thumbnail for DSCN4302.JPG]
Katie and Bulldozer/Log Trailer
 
Eric Hanson
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Travis,

I am about to start a new thread for implements:attachments.  Maybe we can leave this thread open for small tractors and start posting for attachments (the direction this thread is starting to go) on the new thread.

For the record, I am loving your log trailer and am officially jealous!

Eric
 
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I know steel tracks are really hard on ground, and travel is always slow with tracks, but do they ever go through soft ground and over obstacles.

I have thought about doing something like this guy did, which is taking a very similar log trailer to mine, and half-dismantling a tractor to pull it. I am just not sure how it would work. In some ways better because ALL the weight is on driving wheels, so it would be better then a 4x4 tractor pulling wood via the strange weight transfer that takes place, and if my log trailer had its wheels powered, more wheels driving it.

Finding old tractors is pretty cheap and easy, but I would want one that has positraction, that way if I got into ice or mud, I could lock the front axle together and claw my way out. Again, I would not have a tractor without a front end loader through.



 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Travis,

I am about to start a new thread for implements:attachments.  Maybe we can leave this thread open for small tractors and start posting for attachments (the direction this thread is starting to go) on the new thread.

For the record, I am loving your log trailer and am officially jealous!

Eric



I hear you. Like I said this is a though issue because what I am proposing is half-implement and half tractor! It is kind of like when RG Letourneau built the first modern scraper people laughed. Everyone knew that bulldozers pulled scrapers, but now EVERY scraper is articulated and self propelled.

As for my log trailer, wait to you see my wood splitter. It has a cup holder, that is how easy splitting wood is for me. No lifting. I am extremely close to 100% mechanical firewood.
 
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