The heart of a home is the kitchen, but the heart of your homestead is your tractor. Tractors are used for everything from hauling heavy loads to harvesting crops. In an emergency, a tractor is so heavy duty it'll go places where your pickup truck wouldn't dare tread. As good as a tractor is, however, it'll only take as good care of you as you take care of it.
To start with, you have to choose a tractor.
Choosing a Tractor
Rules of the road: The bigger the tractor, the more expensive it'll be. For a homesteader, bigger isn't always better; and most of us get along just fine with a compact tractor. Before you buy just any tractor, make sure you know exactly what you need it for.
When I started out, I only had 10 acres, so I didn't need the biggest tractor on the market. Talk to other homesteaders and consult with your tractor dealer over the right size tractor for you.
Many tractors have options for attachments and tools to help you along. You don't need to buy them all at once, so tell your banker to calm down; you don't have to empty your bank account just yet. However, it's important to set yourself up with the proper tools to drive your farm towards success.
Regular maintenance is vital for any machine, farm equipment or not. If you want to extend the lifetime of your tractor, pull out your owner's manual and grab a pair of gloves. It's time to get friendly with your tractor.
Your owner's manual is loaded with everything you need to set up a proper maintenance schedule, and it'll tell you what sort of tools and fluids you need to keep on hand. Think hydraulic oil and transmission fluid.
I've been using a Massey Ferguson compact tractor for years and, just like driving a car, I always do a sight inspect on my tractor before I take it out for the day and when I come back.
Photo courtesy Massey Ferguson
Tires: It isn't always obvious when the PSI of a tractor tire is low, but I promise you don't want to be stuck in the field with a flat.
Belts: Keep an eye out for worn or cracked belts and hoses, especially if your tractor has a hydraulic system. If the hydraulic fluid can't reach the right part of your tractor, you're at risk for steering loss. Scary stuff.
Connections: Double check that all mounted equipment – think loader – is secure and that any pins or bolts are tightened.
Fluid: Double check levels and watch for possible leaks.
Did you know that tractor use is measured in hours instead of distance? Whereas we drive our cars 3,000 to 5,000 miles between oil changes, tractors go by the clock. Check your owner's manual for specifics, but the standard range is either every 25 hours or every 50.
If you notice that your oil is dirty, you should consider sending a sample for analysis. Yes, it's easy to just replace the fluid, but that doesn't address the initial problem. An oil analysis will break down what's in the oil with maintenance recommendations. It's a sort of early-warning system for your tractor.
Remember that a well-lubricated tractor will hold up for decades. As a homesteader, some of you may have even already opted in for a 50-year-old tractor. Your grandfather's tractor was probably part tank, and those antiques weather time well.
Before turning the lock on the shed for the winter, follow these tips for an easy startup the following spring:
Give it a good once-over with mild soap and water, just make sure it dries well.
Disconnect the battery and store in a dry, warm place.
Release the clutch if it has one.
When you're preparing to take the tractor back out in the spring, empty and refill the oil and fuel tanks and change the filters. This is a good time to recheck other fluid levels too.
A little maintenance goes a long way with machinery, so treat your investment well. A tractor is as much of an investment as your homestead. If you care for your homestead – and your tractor – they'll take care of you, too.