How to Determine the Size Tractor You Need

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Equipping Your Horse Farm
on a Small Acreage

Cherry Hill's
Horsekeeping Almanac

Equipping Your Horse Farm
Horsekeeping On A Small Acreage
Horsekeeping On A Small Acreage

How to Find the Right Size Tractor for You     

Equipping Your Horse Farm   

Excerpt from Equipping Your Horse Farm   

  2008 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

Tractors are generally grouped into four categories as dictated by size, weight, horsepower (see various horsepower designations below), and suitability for purpose. If only manufacturers would agree on the size classifications. One tractor manufacturer calls their compact tractor a utility tractor and one calls their garden tractors compact tractors. But for purposed of discussion, I’m dividing tractors into four groups and further subdividing two of the groups.

You might find that you want to purchase an All Purpose Vehicle (APV) instead of or in addition to a tractor. Read Chapter 7 in Equipping Your Horse Farm to learn how APVs differ from tractors. Many of the features and implement are similar, so even if you are not considering an APV, you’ll find lots of useful information there.

The main tractor groups are:
  • Lawn and Garden
  • Compact
  • Utility
  • Farm

Lawn and garden tractor.

(Up to 25 Horsepower; 1-2 cylinder gas engine or 2-3 cylinder diesel engine; weight approximately 500-1200 pounds)

This group can be subdivided into lawn tractors and garden tractors.

A lawn tractor is designed for mowing lawns. It has tires that minimize footprints (tracks) on lawns, a 2-3 gallon fuel tank, might have an electric Power Take Off (PTO explained later) but no or few attachments.

A garden tractor has tires with good traction for working in a garden, a 5-6 gallon fuel tank, a PTO (some are electric powered, some engine powered) with a hydraulic clutch, and some offer 4WD. Depending on the brand, garden tractors can be used with a full line of compatible attachments such as: dump cart, trailer, tiller, broadcast spreader, snow thrower, blade, roller, sprayer, spike aerator, disk, plow, cultivator and rotary broom.

A lawn or garden tractor is handy for driving through barn alleyways and pens or for pulling a small manure or feed cart. It would be unsuitable, however, for routine fieldwork, arena work, or large-scale feeding or manure handling. Lawn tractors can be an expensive option for horsemen - by the time you buy a tractor, a cart, and other attachments, you might have reached the same price range as a compact tractor. You could end up with half the tractor for the same price. You might want to consider purchasing a lawn tractor for light duty or barn work if you are planning to buy two tractors.

Compact tractor.

(Approximately 25 to 45 Horsepower; 2-4 cylinder diesel; 1400-2000#; category 1 or 2 hitch). This category is often broken into two subcategories: sub-compact and compact. Sometimes tractors in this category are also called a mid-size or acreage tractor; they are convenient, easy-to-operate tractors. Since they are not very tall, they are pretty easy to mount. The hitch is low to the ground, making attachment of implements convenient yet with compacts there is greater ground clearance (12 inches or more) than with garden tractors or sub-compacts. Generally, these are good tractors for teenagers to learn on.

Sub-compacts are available as low as 15 hp and up to 25 hp (10-16 PTO hp) with 2-3 cylinder diesel engines. What make these different from garden tractors are features, style and the fact that they are only available with diesel engines. Some are available with 4WD, 3 point hitches, loader and beefier implement choices. They have 6-8 gallon fuel tanks.

Compact tractors will usually have 3-4 cylinder diesel engines with up to 45 horsepower and use category 1 or 2 equipment (see hitches later in this chapter). They are good for all-around small acreage chores, but they are limited to the size of the attachments that can be used with them. They can pull about an 8-foot pull-type disc or a 6-foot three-point disc. They work well with a small manure spreader, especially the friction-drive type (see manure spreaders in Chapter 6). With a front-end loader or a 6-foot blade on the back, a mid-size tractor can work well for cleaning out pens and runs.

Older tractors in this category are the equivalent of the gasoline engine 8N Ford which was known as the estate tractor when it was manufactured (1939 to 1952). As a thumb rule, you can probably find a fairly decent older used gas tractor in this category in running order for approximately $2,000. There weren't a lot of mid-size tractors manufactured through the late fifties up to the seventies, so the vast majority of used tractors in this size are at least twenty-five years old.

Since the late 1970s, most compact tractors are Japanese-made, many of them four-wheel-drive. They go for $10,000 new and for $5,000 to $6,000 used.

Utility tractor.

(Approximately 45 to 85 horsepower; 3-5 cylinder diesel engine; 1500-3000#; Category 2 hitch). These are taller, more powerful tractors, able to operate more heavy-duty equipment such as a post hole digger or a large loader, to scoop or push deep snow. They have a 20-30 gallon fuel tank. If you have a large arena and want to use a disc with two 8-foot sections, you will want to consider a utility tractor. If you need to handle large amounts of manure and you use a heavy-duty PTO-driven spreader, you will need a tractor of this size. Depending on economics at the time you are ready to purchase, you may well find a utility tractor for the same price that you would pay for a compact tractor. All other things being equal, if you think you might need the extra power, buy the larger tractor.

Farm tractor.

(Over 85 hp and up to 450 hp; 4-6 cylinder diesel engine; 2500-6000# and more; Category 2, 3, 3N, 4, or 4N hitch). Generally these tractors are designed for commercial farming so are bigger, more powerful, and have many features. There often have multiple hydraulic hookups and PTOs - at the rear, front and side. The transmission could have as many as 24 forward and 24 reverse gears with on-the-go 4WD. They can sport a fuel tank as large as 300 gallons. The tires are much bigger, so the trip to the cab often takes 2 or 3 steps, but the climb is well worth it. Large tractor cabs often have all the comforts of home: a plush, power seat with multiple adjustments, heat and air conditioning, sound system, tilt steering wheel, GPS system and more. Cabs on new tractors will be ROPS certified but on older models, not necessarily so. New cabs are well sealed to keep out the dirt, dust and fumes. Farm tractors without cabs might have foldable ROPS to allow parking under a lower roof.

Equipping Your Horse Farm     

Excerpt from Equipping Your Horse Farm     2008 Cherry Hill 
  Copyright Information

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