Editor's note: Most horse farm and stable owners use some type of labor-saving equipment or machinery to make management tasks easier.These labor-savors might range from a 4-wheeler to pull a hay cart or a small manure spreader, to a small tractor for powering a larger manure spreader or front-end loader, to a larger tractor for handling big round bales and agricultural chores. This month we are discussing several of these machines to help you better understand how you might get the most out of them, or to determine that you don't need that specific equipment.
There are many kinds and sizes of large tractors, including some with 4-wheel drive and other extremely large ones for pulling massive farm machinery. Some of these are much too large for most horse farm needs, so make sure you are buying a tractor that fits your requirements, but isn't more than you need for what you need to do.
Even when looking at the average “large” tractor, you want to make sure it’s what you need. “The main question is whether you really need that much capacity,” said Bob Coleman, state extension specialist at the University of Kentucky. “If you have a big horse farm (or livestock facility) and are doing your own haying and/or handling a lot of bales, or you are doing a lot of farming/dirt work, you might have need for one, but most horse farms can get by with a mid-size tractor. If you need larger equipment to renovate pastures, you are probably better off to hire it done.”
Tractors are expensive, and large ones are very expensive. “You have to service the debt, and also service the tractor," reminded Coleman. "Construction, moving roads, major renovation, etc. on most horse farms will usually be short-term, and if you need a tractor with that much capacity, it might be better to hire it done for two reasons. First, the contractor will have the right equipment for each kind of job (it might be more appropriate for some jobs to use a backhoe or an excavator rather than a tractor), and second, that person knows how to use it. A person who is doing these things all the time can do the job much more quickly and efficiently and end up with the desired results more readily than someone who hasn’t done very much of this kind of work.”
“You might be better off to hire it done and spend your time making sure that the gas lines, electrical lines and the water lines buried underground have been identified regarding their location, before the dirt work is done,” he advised.
There are a few large operations that can justify a large tractor, but most horse farms cannot.
“It takes more training and skill to operate these big tractors correctly, so unless you have a lot of use for it, your time may be spent better with other aspects of your farm," said Coleman. "Don’t overbuy, but at the same time, don’t under-buy when selecting a tractor. Find the size and type that fits your needs. You can probably go to various dealerships and try them out. They may let you drive one to see what it does.”
Spend some time being a good consumer and do your homework. “Look at other customer's reports and testimonials, and always consider the needs of your own situation. A glowing report from someone who has two horses and six acres regarding what a certain piece of equipment does might not apply to your situation if you have 22 horses and 80 acres. Evaluate the testimonials, and also go see what various people are using in your area. You might ask the implement dealer if he’s sold this kind of tractor to any horse people, and if he’d mind letting you know who they are so you can go talk to them. This might be part of their customer service.”
Another thing to consider when buying a tractor is whether you really need a new one, or if you would be better off financially with a used one. Many tractors have a lot of good years left in them if they were taken care of and maintained properly, and used tractors are less expensive than new ones.
“You might mention to the dealer that you are looking for such and such used model and to let you know if he gets a good one in," said Coleman. "In smaller communities and small dealerships with good mechanics, they will often help you find what you need.”
Do your homework and you’ll be more satisfied with what you end up with.
“Have a list of the things you want," noted Coleman. "You can tell the dealer that you need something that will be able to move bales that weigh X amount, something that has a power take off, and it needs to have enough strength to pull a ground-driven manure spreader, and so on. Perhaps you are going to buy a certain type of arena drag and you need to know what to pull it with. Know what you want before you buy, then you can select the appropriate size tractor for the job.”