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How to Choose the Best Tractor for Your Homestead

I was not a happy camper when that pic was taken. After days of searching Nashville Craigslist, referencing TractorData.com, and combing dozens of tractor forum threads (yes, there are tractor forums),  I began my search for THE tractor. I knew nothing going in except tractors are big, loud, and expensive. 

I look unhappy because I drove all over Creation looking for said tractor, with three grouchy children in tow. “Are we there yet?!?!?!” and “Can I have another snack?!?!?” That’s pretty much how it went for FIVE HOURS A DAY. FOR THREE DAYS.

You may or may not have to experience this bliss in your own pursuit, but I’ve made a short list of considerations you need to think through before purchasing your first, or next, tractor.

Step 1: Determine How Much Horsepower You Need

Thanks to said tractor forums, I learned that in order to pull a bush hog (rotary cutter strong enough to cut through brush), you typically want to calculate 5 horsepower per foot width of bush hog. So, for instance, a 5′ wide bush hog would require a 25hp tractor. A 6′ bush hog needs at least a 30hp tractor. And so on. My goal was to get either a 6′ or 7′ bush hog, so I knew to cross off all tractors with less than 35hp. Yay! My first criteria confirmed.

Massey Ferguson 1135 steering wheel

Step 2: Gasoline or Diesel

I’m not sure you can lose on this one. I interrogated half a dozen local farmers and they all agreed with the online forums. Diesel tractor engines are longer lasting and are stronger/more sturdy. But, diesel engines are more expensive to repair.

You also should consider use. Are you going to use your tractor in freezing winter temps? Diesel engines need to be warmed up before they will start. Gasoline engines will start right up. A diesel will either need a glow plug or an actual power plug. Some farmers slap something warm around the engine for 20-30 minutes instead. Not the most convenient, I admit.

85% of the farmers I talked to prefer diesels, so I went with the collective wisdom. And while diesel engines may generally last longer due to less wear and tear internally, the history of care for each individual tractor should play the most significant factor when you choose whether to consider either gas or diesel.

Massey Ferguson 1135

Step 3: Stick with One Brand or Equal Opportunity?

Before even hearing anyone’s opinion on brand, I developed my own opinions from completely unscientific methods. John Deere, Massey Ferguson, Ford, and International / Case IH were the brands that struck me as dependable and reliable enough to consider. Kubotas would have made the list also, but there were no 35+hp Kubota tractors available within my price range.

John Deere tractor with front end loader

Step 4: Determine Which Attachments You Must Have

All the farmers I talked to told me that I should focus on getting any/all attachments I want in a package deal with the used tractor. Attachments are pricey, and they can cost as much as the tractor you’re driving if you buy them separately.

I wanted a front end loader and the rotary cutter / bush hog in the back, but settled for the rotary cutter because front end loaders meant much more money and all the options with loaders I saw seemed much more worn down.

I plan to purchase a rear hay spike to move round hay bales across the property. I haven’t tried round bales yet, and some of my friends warn me against them, saying their animals have only gotten sick from them. But I’m assuming they bought round bales that had been sitting uncovered for some time. I’m only interested in round bales that have been under covering.

The front end loader would have been a great add-on, but in reality I probably won’t need one for some time. Potential future attachments include front end loader and auger for drilling.

Kubota tractor

Step 5: Determine Your Budget

I can’t really offer much advice on this, except to advise you to have a general idea what you need your tractor to do, and be conservative.

There are many other factors that came into play for me. Buying from an individual vs a used tractor company. I looked at both options, and in the end, found that a tractor company had a vastly superior collection of options and were at least somewhat accountable for quality and dependability. Buying a tractor off an old retired farmer, while always an option I considered, would have come with additional risk. People can be honest or deceitful. They are ignorant or competent. They are lazy or hardworking. You never know whether a complete and total stranger has driven his tractor into the ground and forgotten to get it properly serviced.

It’s a complicated scenario on the homestead these days. I suffered back and abdominal injuries back in September, and quality of life was pretty abysmal until I got doctor’s orders to refrain from lifting more than 10 pounds for the next eight weeks. That was four weeks ago.

Meanwhile, I spotted the first tick of the new year and decided we could wait no longer to buy a tractor and start bush hogging our high traffic areas ASAP.

Micah in a tractor

 

 

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