Few things are as important to running an equine facility as a good tractor. From fencelines to mowing and from heavy lifting to arena upkeep, the tractor handles Herculean tasks with the flick of a lever, making the impossible possible.
Tractors are all about horsepower. And that makes them extremely easy to understand. Horsepower ratings for tractors is determined more or less scientifically by the Nebraska Tractor Test Reports, conducted and published by the State of Nebraska. The test measures power available at the power takeoff (PTO). Without a powered implement attached, the traction horsepower (power going to the ground and available for straight hauling) is about 80 percent of the PTO horsepower. That’s because PTO power doesn’t go through a complex, heavy duty transaxle, but wheel power does.
Horsepower should be matched to the type of implements you plan to use. If you already have mowing or haymaking equipment, you’ll know its power requirements and can buy a tractor accordingly. If not, budget your tractor and implement purchase around machinery that’s well matched. Driving too much horsepower through an implement risks moving too fast over the ground, and will eventually damage the implement; trying to push a big implement with an underpowered tractor will eventually damage the tractor.
And let’s face it: the reason to have a tractor in the first place is to reduce manual labor. Make sure your tractor will be able to handle all the implements you might use. Implements for horse farm use include arena drags, front loaders, scraper blades, post-hole diggers, manure spreaders, mowing and haying equipment, and a simple utility trailer. Consider which of these you own or will purchase in the future.
Arena drags include simple harrows used to break up clods and level the arena surface. More complex rotary tillers are often used in large arenas with heavy traffic. Tillers and harrows don’t need PTO power, but they should be sized wider than the tractor’s own tread. A front loader, or bucket, is used for moving manure, gravel and fill, snow, or, especially with a bale fork, hay. It requires an appropriate hydraulic system. A towed scraper blade can also be used for moving materials, but is mainly used for leveling surfaces—often in combination with a harrow drag.
A post-hole digger is almost mandatory if you have a lot of fence. The auger is run off the PTO. Horse farms generally choose between two types of mower. The simpler, more durable version is the rotary mower. For haying, the sickle-bar mower cuts clean and leaves the mown hay in a neat swath ready to be raked, instead of throwing it around. Manure spreaders come in two sizes: small units in which the spreading mechanism is driven by the trailer’s own wheels, and larger machines driven by the PTO. For haying, you’ll need sufficient power to drive a baler – at least 40 hp. You’ll also need a haybine and a rake. As for pulling, driving, and operating all these implements, here’s a review of what the major tractor companies offer:
AGCO, one of the largest tractor manufacturers worldwide, makes a range of tractors—from riding mowers to 500 hp behemoths. For most smaller farms, the ST Series Compact tractors (22 hp to 54 hp) provide sufficient power, efficiency and comfort. The ST28a, for example, has 22 PTO hp; the heavy-duty ST52a, 41 PTO hp—enough power for most tasks around the barn. The ST Series diesel engines offer improved fuel economy and lower emissions. Larger models (34 hp and up) have an enclosed, heated and air-conditioned cab, and speakers wired for radio or CD.
AGCO’s GT Series (45 hp to 74 hp) utility tractors are big enough to handle light fieldwork and such other duties as digging postholes, moving snow or mowing hay. The series also has a standard Category II 3-point hitch capable of lifting up to 3,520 pounds at 24 inches. These tractors can accommodate a wide range of implements. Info: www.agcocorp.com
Bobcat was first introduced 50 years ago and the line of compact equipment has grown to include mini track loaders, skid-steer loaders, all-wheel steer loaders, loader backhoes, compact hydraulic “mini” excavators, telescopic tool carriers, utility vehicles and attachments. When it comes to any sort of excavation, clearing or general work around the farm, Bobcat offers a full line of equipment to tackle every job. The company also sells utility vehicles that are equipped to handle many attachments, called the Toolcat. Look for the 5600 series. Info: www.bobcat.com
John Deere makes a wide variety of agricultural and commercial tractors, up to 500 hp monsters, plus loaders, utility vehicles and a huge assortment of baling, mowing, loading and baling attachments. The 5203 two-wheel drive Utility Tractor, with a three-cylinder 56 hp diesel engine, handles baling and tilling gear through a 42 hp power takeoff, but is agile enough for arena work. Available with the 510 front loader. Info: www.deere.com
Kubota’s four-wheel drive GL 3130 features a power takeoff and 2640-lb lifting capacity. In addition to backhoe and front-loading attachments, Kubota offers a variety of tillers, scrapers and mowers to fit. Info: kubota.com
This Indian company began in WWII by manufacturing American cars (Willys Jeep, Ford) and tractors (International Harvester) under license. It’s now one of the largest tractor makers in the world, and machines for the North American market are made in a new factory in Georgia. Spokesman Jim Startz suggests that the most versatile tractor in the line is the new 75 hp Mahindra 7520, a four-wheel-drive diesel machine with a 65-hp independent power takeoff suitable for running a mower. The front-loading attachment is the ML270, available with bucket, pallet-lift and bale-spearing accessories, with a 5500 lb. lifting capacity. Smaller tractors are available down to 20 hp for arena maintenance work. Info: www.mahindrausa.com
The 400 Series (52 to 99 hp) utility tractors feature Perkins diesel engines for proven power, performance and dependability. Transmissions, chassis, axles, and other components deliver rugged durability. Good choices for larger farms include the MF 461, with 55 PTO hp. All models use the reliable Ferguson 3-point hitch system, designed by Harry Ferguson more than 60 years ago. Modern features include independently engaged or live PTO for running various types of equipment. For barns with low height concerns, low-profile versions of the 400 series can be a good option. The MF 1500 series of compact tractors (22 to 52 hp) are lighter-duty machines. One example: the MF1540, which has 31 PTO hp. Tier II emissions-compliant diesel engines make the 1500 series tractors reliable and environmentally friendly. Like their larger cousins, 1500 series tractors have a three-point hitch to provide accurate control of implements, and an easy-to-use electro-hydraulic PTO with two-position engagement. The full range of Massey Ferguson implements includes loaders, backhoes, mowers, landscaping tools, and front-mounted implements. Info: www.massey-ferguson.com
New Holland makes a full range of tractors up to 500 hp, and every imaginable kind of tractor implement, including haying and baling tools. The economy-line TT75 two-wheel drive tractor handles a 59 hp power takeoff and lifting gear up to 2900 lb capacity.