Thursday, February 26, 2009

Oh, for a Tractor...

...My kingdom for a Tractor! Well, maybe not my "kingdom" for a tractor (if I gave up the "kingdom" I would have no need for a tractor). But, there sure are plenty of times that I wish my tractor hadn't given up on me (probably from user error) and that I had it to help with chores. In fact I was just thinking about the humor in the fact that way back when I wrote, "What is a Farm Without a Tractor". At the time of writing that we barely had a house plan let alone livestock or fencing work on the farm ... now, we've got cows (the pigs are all gone) and plenty of work to do!

While the tractor is out of commission the handiest tool on the farm has become the combination of my power and our garden cart. I've used it to haul hay to the heifer calves that now have a place of their own, to clean out the indoor pen where I put animals when they need it, haul wood to the door, take trash out to the road, and so much more. Those are all things that I had used the loader for at various times ... now it just takes a little more time.

Probably the biggest place that I miss the tractor is when it comes time to move in a new big round bale. I have to wait until the ground is frozen so that I don't get the truck or the bale stuck (it has happened). As spring comes on in greater force this is going to be a bigger problem, but we will just go to plan "b" which means feeding round bales by hand over the fence into the round bale rings.

I have been working on a tractor solution though. So far my cousin has been able to figure out that he can't find the exact cause of the engine problem. It is stuck that is certain, but nothing seems out of place or torn up. I guess this could be a good thing, but I'm still looking at plenty of other options.

I have located a few Farmall 450's that range in price from "doable" to "you've got to be kidding me". One nice thing is my search for another 450 is I think I have found that if I got a completely different tractor I could part mine out for at least a salvageable amount of money. Another thing I'm doing is scouring the classifieds and the online places looking for used tractors. So far I have found a couple candidates in the form of an Oliver 1855 and 1750 along with some smaller John Deere's. But, we will see what happens.

The biggest problem though is it just isn't a good time to have to go tractor shopping. There are so many things on the farm that need done and they all cost money! I might just end up seeing how long I can go without a tractor, but then I would have to figure something out for hay...


BlueGate said...

I'm a big fan of bartering and think it is an underutilized tool in our modern society.
What about a little bartering for a short-term tractor rental? Could you trade some pork to a neighbor and borrow their tractor once a week for a couple of months? That might buy you some time and get the necessary chores done without an immediate cash outlay.

Sorry we aren't closer, we'd be happy to help.
Just a thought...

Chris said...

I certainly feel your pain... we've been able to borrow a tractor a couple of times, but we have to go without the vast majority of the time. And moving round bales is a big issue for us as well.

Lately, we've been looking at something called the TumbleBug, which is a clever way for moving hay with a pickup truck. With one of those, we could easily pick up round bales and drop them off exactly where we wanted them. The cost is around $1k, so it isn't cheap, but it is much cheaper than a tractor... and if it means that we can get by with a borrowed tractor, then it saves us a lot! You can read more at

Anyway, just wanted to share my sympathy and a possible idea that might help out.

John said...

I think you need to consider a second tractor. Perhaps a bit smaller but still with enough power to move a round bale on a 3 point bale spear. I have a Ford 2000 that moves a 1600 lb bale with little effort. It is a 35hp tractor. I plan to get a larger tractor, like a 450 or 460 with a loader. A loader needs a bigger tractor than a 2000. A second tractor means that you will have a backup, as well as be able to load with the bigger tractor and haul a wagon or such with the smaller tractor. Also, the smaller tractor is probably more fuel efficient when mowing or doing non-loader work.


Mike W. said...

I recommend that you hire a neighbor to put down the big rounds for you. I, too, don't have a tractor and that is what I did. (I saw a post above about bartering. I traded bales for tractor work.)

I have been looking for a tractor, but money is a problem. I might try to get away from the big round bales next year by using a silage clamp and small squares.

Rich said...

A few times, I've seen people just stack round bales end to end in tight rows (in a square), and then just let the cattle have unlimited access to them. They then ate their way in from the outside edges over the winter. If you could borrow a tractor for a few hours, you could easily move most of your hay into a stack inside your feeding areas. It might not be the best way to feed hay, but it might be an option depending on the situation.

There would be more "wasted" hay (just look at it as bedding or organic material or something to entertain the pigs) , but it might free up some time to do other things.

Ethan Book said...

BlueGate - I agree with you on bartering. That is somewhat how we ended up with our big round bales. For now we are surviving, but if it gets close to fencing time and we don't have a tractor we will have to come up with one somehow.

Chris - Thanks for your sympathy :) That TumbleBug is an interesting deal. My only thoughts on it are that for $1,000 it seems like you might as well spend a couple more thousand and have a tractor that you can do so much more with. But, then again not everyone needs a tractor.

John - Two tractors does sound nice, and if we got the 450 running again it is something I could consider for the distant future. But, with all the needs we have for the farm (buildings, fencing, etc.) I just want one that works ... even if it has a minor breakdown from time to time.

Mike - I think this is just a family thing (it is what we have always done), but I'm not a fan of big round bales. Our family has always felt like there was so much wasted through feeding and rotting that it was worth the extra work for the small squares. But, the biggest reason is that if we are able to put up our building this spring we will be feeding inside in deep bedding. Square bales will be the only way to do that easily inside. Plus, we have the hay equipment ... minus the tractor. This is a deal where it is each to their own though I think.

Rich - I have seen that thing too. I believe like you say the biggest issue is wasted hay. It may become our only option though...

Thanks all for the great thoughts!

T.J. said...

Hi Ethan,
I've been following your blog for quite some time, really enjoy it. I go onto to every so often to compare tractor prices and horsepower to what I think I could afford, I had a friend advise me not to go w/ an oliver because of the lousy hydraulics they have, compared to a international. I know everybody has their brand that they like, my friend worked at a tractor dealership and knows the ins/out of hydraulics pretty well, have you called the colfax tractor salvage yard yet, for fixing yours?But ultimately the barter/borrow method rules for the beginner.

The Farmers said...

In the mean time, while you still need to feed hay and it's still cold enough for the ground to be frozen:

Haul a bunch of bales into the field. Place them spaced out - just enough room to roll the hay ring over to them and tip it on and have space for the cows to circle around it. Then enclose the bales with a stand of electric fence on push posts.

When you need a new bale move the fence enough to allow access to a fresh bale. Put the ring on and there you go.

I did this for years when I didn't have a tractor of my own.

Take care, and stay warm


Ethan Book said...

The Farmers - I think I may have to use that idea. Thanks for the fresh thought!

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