Do you dream about farm tractors? It’s a beautiful day, you’re perched on top of a reliable tractor, rolling across a well groomed pasture…maybe you’re even wearing a silly hat.
Maybe your tractor dreams lean a bit more towards the practical; you want to plant and maintain pasture, dig postholes, stretch fencing, move manure, bale hay, plow snow and do some light earth moving. Let’s look at your options.
The two most common types of farm tractors are the “utility” tractors and the “general purpose” tractors.
Utility farm tractors are designed for pulling and powering implements such as hay mowers, balers, disk harrows, and trailers that are attached to either a hitch or a lifting mechanism at the rear of the tractor.
The general-purpose tractor has additional features that are designed to care for row crops. If you’re not caring for crops, the added features of the general purpose tractor are probably not required.
Bigger is not always better. Consider where you will be using your tractor. Will it fit through your gates? If you have a lot of tight maneuvering to do, a smaller machine can save you more time than a larger one. You want to buy a tractor with enough horsepower to do the work needed, but buying more horsepower than you need will cost more in fuel, it will have a greater impact on the environment, and it will increase soil compaction.
Used or New?
Though more expensive, new equipment will come with warranties and possibly more favorable financing. They may be more reliable and parts will be easier to obtain. If selected carefully, however, used equipment can be a very cost effective choice.
Almost all farm tractors available today are powered by either gasoline or diesel engines.
The engine in a gasoline-fueled tractor is basically the same as those found in most cars. Most tractors have relatively low horsepower ratings but because they run at a lower RPM, a 20- to 30-HP machine will be able to handle all your chores.
A diesel-engined tractor costs more initially, but may end up being less expensive to operate. A typical diesel tractor will outpull and often outlast a gas powered machine of the same size. Be aware, also, that diesel tractors can be hard to start on cold mornings. Heat plugs (which warm the cylinders and help cold starts) are available on new models and can often be installed on older models.
Tractors with a narrow front end are less expensive, but more prone to rollover. While ROPS (Roll Over Protection Systems) can be added, they are costly and may negate any savings.
Standard or Live PTO
The power takeoff unit (PTO) is used to power attachments like hay balers and mowers. There are two types of PTO, standard and live. Live is more versitile since it can be operated when the tractor isn’t moving. A standard unit will only work while the tractor is in motion (or in neutral) with the clutch engaged. If you’re buying a used tractor of either type, be sure the PTO stops completely when it’s disengaged. If the shaft keeps rotating, the PTO gear is probably worn.
Older tractors (pre-1950) will probably feature spring lifts, while newer tractors are pump-driven hydraulic.
When buying used, check the hydraulic system very carefully for leaks. Also try to lift something heavy. If the unit jerks or slips, it may be low on oil which could indicate leaks or poor maintenance. If the oil level is ok, the system is probably badly worn.
Other tips for buying used:
Check the tires. Tires can be surprisingly expensive!
Start the tractor up, drive it around. Put is through its paces and listen for any unusual noises.
Consider buying all of the accessories offered with the tractor. Some of these accessories may be difficult to find later.
When considering a small utility tractor with front end bucket loader, look closely at the transmission and clutch as well as the front axles and tires.
If the manufacturer has gone out of business, it may be hard to get parts.
There are other options available if you prefer not to purchase a tractor:
Rent: Most equipment can be rented and many places will deliver and pick up the equipment.Hire: Haying and pasture cutting can be contracted out. Sharing: If rental fees or contractors are more than you can afford, consider sharing costs with neighbors who have other small jobs.Borrowing: This only works if you return the equipment in better condition than when your received it: clean and filled with gas!Bartering: Exchange a service you can perform in exchange for tractor time.
Buying a farm tractor is a big purchase. But with the right information and a knowledge of your needs, you’ll make a great choice.