A Helping Hand

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Some chores simply require the application of internal combustion transport: Raking the arena; hauling feed and water; moving fertilizer, manure and turf; trucking tools, ­materials and personnel to roadless worksites; mowing and plowing.

Traditionally, a small tractor handled these tasks. Over the past couple of decades a lot of stables have found that a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle—an ATV—offers an agile and economical alternative. An ATV is essentially an off-road four-wheeled motorcycle, with enough power to haul its rider and a couple of bales of hay.

ATVs were originally developed by motorcycle companies for recreational use. The modern four-wheel-drive ATV was created to replace the tricycle ATV, which had the fatal flaw that it could capsize when braking in a turn, tossing its rider. And so the ATV has become a favorite mount for anyone who needs to reach the far corners of a large spread quickly.

The ATV retains motorcycle seating, and the two cargo racks sit high over the axles, front and rear. This means it takes a good heave to get a heavy load onto the rack, and the machine may feel topheavy when carrying a maximum load (200 to 300 pounds). It also means that when the rear rack is loaded, the rider may have trouble swinging a leg over the saddle.

Over the past five years a new breed of utility ATV has emerged, designed more for sedate and stable load hauling than for sporty riding. These utility vehicles—often called UVs or utes—look like a cross between a golf cart and a pickup truck. Seating is two- or three-across, using bucket seats or a bench. The load is carried in a cargo bed, and the bed is often set up to tilt like a dump truck. The cargo bed sits low enough for easy loading, and a steering wheel replaces the ATV’s motorcycle-style handlebars. And the engine/transmission combination is set up for a 25-mph top speed.

A sports-style ATV carries only its rider, but can pull a small trailer. This makes it useful for hauling feed and manure or for pulling a rake. A ute, on the other hand, can carry two or three people. Most will carry half a ton of cargo, or tow a trailer weighing up to 2,000 pounds. And they use wide balloon tires designed to float over wet ground without sinking.

ATVs are often delivered with “mud” tires, featuring 1-inch self-cleaning lugs, often in an overlapping chevron pattern to reduce noise on hard surfaces. These off-road tires offer great traction for steep ground, and they’re often armored with Kevlar, to get you home if you suffer a flat far from civilization. However, a very aggressive off-road tire is not necessarily the best thing to run across the smooth sand of an arena or over your delicate turf. For that kind of work, look at the tires used by golfcourses: their broad flat lugs, less than a half-inch high, won’t tear up the grass or make deep furrows in the sand.

What the ATV and the ute won’t do is mowing, baling and tilling: There’s no power take-off. For that, you’ll have to keep the tractor.

But even a small engine, if revved up, makes enough horsepower to pull a small trailer. The limiting factor is usually the automatic transmission. Most of these machines come with a CVT—a continuously variable transmission, which uses a belt running over conical pulleys to match engine speed to output. Today, most vehicles meant for towing also add a two-speed transfer case or a torque converter to ease the load on the CVT, and belts are often reinforced with Kevlar. The upgrades mean better CVT reliability, but even so, towing limits are often higher with conventional transmissions. For instance, a 650cc engine with a manual transmission may be rated to tow 2,000 pounds, while the same engine with a CVT is usually rated to tow between 800 and 1,500 pounds.

The right choice for heavy hauling is a high-torque, slow-turning, liquid-cooled engine. Some of the utes are built on three-cylinder liquid-cooled diesels. These small engines will run reliably, under heavy load, with very little maintenance.

The other issue for hauling a load is braking. Some utes offer only rear-wheel brakes. This is adequate for golf-cart style working conditions, but may not be adequate for stopping half a ton of manure on a steep downhill grade. For that you’ll want automobile-style four-wheel brakes.

Want to move loads around inside the barn? Look at turning radius. The ATVs, and even some of the smaller UVs, have a turning radius around 10 feet. Larger utes need 20 feet or more to turn around, so you’ll do more backing to reach tight corners.

Now, instead of the horse servicing the land, we have small machines to service the horse.