Save money by turning your all-terrain vehicle into a top hand.
As a hard-core tractor guy, I couldn’t imagine any use for an ATV around the farm other than riding fences and checking cows. In a pinch, I figured the capable little vehicles could be used to drag a feeder or pull a small cart, but it never occurred to me that the ATV would become my tool of choice for everything from preparing the garden to shredding fields and pushing snow. As I learned firsthand this past year, there are few chores you can’t ask an ATV to do, and in many cases, it will do them faster and with less wear and tear on the operator. For example, recently I hitched the DR Field and Brush Cutter to the 2008 Polaris Sportsman 500 X2 to knock down a few thistles growing on the side of a rocky draw. I was amazed at how quickly the work went and how much the ATV’s suspension absorbed the plentiful bumps. Even with my tractor’s high-quality, suspended seat, I felt more than a little beat up after mowing the same area last year with that piece of machinery.
With the day’s field mowing finished early, I connected Agri-Fab’s trailing rotary tiller to the ATV’s drawbar and tilled in some green manure (euphemism for weeds) in the garden, where the lettuce and peas were now finished. That chore took so little time that I spent the rest of the day sitting in the shade with Kate, my wife, pondering the size and layout of a proposed new pole building.
Mowers and tillers are just the tip of the ATV toolkit, though. No matter what you need to pull, push, haul or plant, there is an appropriate add-on that’ll turn your ATV into the top hand at your farm.
Whether you have 20 acres of meadow to maintain, or clip your pastures after the cattle are moved off, there is an ATV mower that’ll suit all but the largest of operations. We mowed scores of acres with both the Kunz Engineering and DR Power products and found them to be capable of cutting in less-than-ideal, rough-country conditions at speeds up to 10 miles per hour. Both of these machines are trailing-type mowers with their own engines, and both are economical to run, shredded tree seedlings, and offered offset drawbars so that the ATV could run in the previously mowed area. Polaris and Swisher also offer front-mounted self-powered mowers that can be used at speeds up to about 4 miles per hour (for more on rough-cut mowers see “Mowing Machine Mania” in our May/June issue). Additional rough-cut ATV mowers are available from Agri-Fab, Swisher, QuadBoss, Cycle Country and others. Check on the Web or with your local ATV dealer for more information.
Although not ideal for small, tree-populated lawns, a pull- or push-type finish-cut mower is worth considering if you have a relatively large and relatively open lawn you want to keep looking its best. We spent some time with the Kunz Pro60K 60-inch- cut finish mower, and it made short work of the lawn chores and was easy enough to navigate around the well-spaced trees at our farm. This particular mower also tackled a few volunteer seedlings growing along the fence line, and it might be all the mower you need if your rough-country mowing isn’t too rough. Look for other finish-cut mowers for your ATV from Swisher, Cycle Country, QuadBoss and others.
As a snow-removal tool, the snowplow-equipped ATV is hard to beat, especially if it has four-wheel-drive. As a dirt-working tool, the front-blade-equipped ATV also works well when pushing relatively loose material such as gravel or topsoil. We spent the winter with Swisher’s 50-inch plow blade mounted to the company’s QuickSwitch™ attachment system (see “Quick Change Artist” below), and it made short work of moving snow. The Swisher system, like most, requires the ATV to be equipped with a winch. Our Polaris wasn’t delivered with a winch, but installing an inexpensive Venom model was easy. Look for other front blades from makers like ACI, Warn, American Manufacturing, Curtis, Moose and many others. Unlike most makes, the ACI SnowSport plow doesn’t require a winch.
Although they are relatively expensive and require their own specialized undercarriage, an ATV-mounted snow thrower might be the only way to make a clear path when the snow piles up. These machines are all equipped with their own engines, and they will power through all but the tallest drifts. Look for these attachments at Agri-Fab, DR Power and elsewhere. Try searching “ATV snow thrower” on Google, or visit your local ATV dealer for more possibilities.
Depending on its towing capacity and/or the weight capacity of its cargo-platform, an ATV makes a perfect tool for hauling bulk liquids to remote sites, or for taking care of spot-spraying weeds in rough areas. We spent some time with a FIMCO 15-gallon sprayer on the cargo rack of the Polaris and found the combination to be invaluable for “shooting” thistles tucked away in difficult-to-access areas of the farm. The sprayer outfit would also make a fine supplement to other fire-suppression tools during controlled burns. If you need to deliver larger volumes of liquid, then choose a trailing tank or tank/sprayer outfit from makers such as DR Power, Agri-Fab, F/S Manufacturing, Moose, QuadBoss, FIMCO and others.
Since ATVs are designed to go virtually anywhere, it is important to match them with cargo-carrying carts designed with off-road travel and low-ground pressure in mind. We found the 1,200-pound capacity Polar Trailer HD 1200TA to be a perfect partner for hauling firewood and fence supplies around the farm. It even handled full loads of wet topsoil without leaving ruts. Polar’s carts can also haul water in a pinch because they are built with a molded plastic body. Agri-Fab’s ATV Tandem Axle Cart (1,000-pound capacity) also performed well at the farm. Its formed steel box offered ample stability for hauling potted perennials, and the extra-large flotation tires were gentle on the ground. Look for other carts (including hydraulic dump models) from ATV Wagon, QuadBoss, Polar, Agri-Fab, Swisher, Cycle World and others.
It used to be that you had to slip the township road-maintainer driver a few bucks to take the ruts out of your lane each spring, but with an ATV and a rear-mounted grader blade on your team, those days are no more. We used Agri-Fab’s trailing 3-point-hitch-mounted box scraper and angle blade to work over the farm’s lane and level a mound in the garden. It took a little time to become proficient with the trailer-type 3-point hitch, but it worked marvelously well going forward and turned out to be so effective that I didn’t bother to mount the 6-foot box scraper to the tractor during the entire mud season. The box scraper is particularly useful for leveling and filling, while the angle blade works great for crowning and pulling gravel out of the lawn and back onto the lane. A rear-mounted landscape rake would work in place of an angle blade for most tasks and is perfect for final grading of a new lawn. Other rear-mounted grading tools and mounts are available from Swisher, Kolpin, Cycle Country and King-Kutter, to name a few.
Whether you need to prepare a seedbed, or just want to keep the weeds down, there is an ATV-mounted earth-stirring tool to get the job done. Last fall, we reclaimed a long-abandoned vegetable garden with the help of a Kunz Model 543 Till-Ease chisel plow hooked to the Polaris. This combination shattered the substantial hardpan in the plot and broke up the sod very nicely. We followed the Till-Ease with Agri-Fab’s trailing 3-point-hitch-mounted single disc, which cut up the remaining clods and left the area relatively smooth. We prepared the final soil bed in that garden with trailing tillers provided by DR Power and Agri-Fab. Both were easy to use and left the ground nicely fit. The DR model was equipped with an optional set of packer wheels, which left a uniform planting medium. The packer wheels are especially useful when using the tiller with the optional seeder attachment because they ensure good soil-seed contact. Literally scores of cultivators, plows and tillers are available for use with your ATV from Kolpin, Cabela’s, King-Kutter, Swisher, Agri-Fab, DR Power, Cycle Country and others.
ATVs are perfect for pulling drop seeders, fertilizer spreaders, spinner-type seeders and spreaders, and even small ground-powered, row-crop planters that mount to the 3-point hitch or other brand-specific rear toolbars. If you are broadcasting seed on the soil surface, you will want to follow with a packer (or lawn roller in a pinch) for soil-seed contact, which promotes germination. Seeders and spreaders are available from Agri-Fab, Swisher, DR Power, Herd, Earthway, King-Kutter, Cycle Country, Curtis and many others.
Sometimes you need to haul a couple hundred pounds of mineral to a remote pasture, or 10 cubic feet of mulch to the flower garden, and you just don’t want to fire up the loader tractor or pickup truck to make it happen. We found Swisher’s front-mount Dump Bucket (another attachment designed to work with the QuickSwitch™ mounting system) to be perfect for grabbing scoops of gravel, sawdust and mulch from our stockpiles and moving them to other locations around the place. While the bucket is most definitely not a hard-core digging tool, it is an exceptionally useful bulk-handling tool. If you need to move materials mounted on pallets, you can equip your ATV with a QuickSwitch™ compatible forklift attachment. Both the bucket and forklift require a winch to operate. Look for other material-handling buckets, forks and platform carryalls from Swisher, Kolpin and a few other makers.
If you plan to use your ATV for any but the most rudimentary work around the acreage, you will want to add a winch. You can choose a front, frame-mounted model or one that mounts to the vehicle’s hitch. If you plan to use the ATV for pushing snow, you will likely want a frame-mounted winch up front. You can use it to control the blade’s height and, with the snowplow dismounted, for self extraction, fence tightening and other short-distance pulling projects. A hitch-mounted winch can perform much of the same work, except controlling the front-mounted implements. You might also need a winch for a rear-attachment mounting system. Check with the manufacturer for details. Our Agri-Fab trailing 3-point system came equipped with its own winch and all the necessary wiring and switches to make it work. Look for ATV winches from Warn, Moose, QuadBoss, Viper, and many others.
If you find yourself working with the ATV in inclement weather, or with too many overly friendly flying insects about, you might consider equipping it with a cab. By its very nature, an ATV will never be as cozy as your pickup, but if you find yourself checking fence or cattle in the rain, mowing at slow speeds during mosquito season, cultivating the sweet corn in the hot sun or moving a lot of snow in the winter, a cab will certainly keep you more comfortable. Select a cab suited to your ATV from ATVCabs, DR Power, Agri-Fab, Moose, Tommy Toppers and others.
Most ATVs are delivered with general-purpose tires that will perform well under most conditions around the farm. These tires have mildly aggressive treads that will grip well in all but the most trying of conditions, and they will shed mud sufficiently to keep on biting when the going gets sloppy. Unfortunately, these general-purpose tires might not offer the best traction when tilling soil or pushing snow, and they might tear up your lawn when mowing. For routine turf maintenance chores, less aggressive tires like Duro’s HF-244 Desert (www.DuroTire.com) or Titan’s Turf Tamer Knobby (www.TitanTires.com/titan_turf_tamer_knobby.htm) will provide all the traction you need and keep the lawn intact, even when the ATV is making sharp turns. For the best traction while working soil, Duro’s DI-2010 Buffalo or Titan’s bar-lug style Tru-Power make more sense. The bar-lug tires are less than ideal on hard surfaces and will damage soft lawns, while the turf tires will run fine on hard surfaces but offer little traction in loose soil or mud. Typically, the more aggressive tires perform well in snow, but some manufacturers offer tires constructed with softer compounds, and treads that are specifically designed to keep your ATV moving in snow. So if you find that your general-purpose tires fall short for some tasks, consider keeping two or more sets on hand and change them with the seasons and the chores.
Smooth power and plenty of pull characterize the electronic fuel-injected Polaris Sportsman 500 ATV EFI X2, and that’s just what we needed to get the work done at the farm this past year. The machine pulled plows, cultivators, blades, loaded carts, logs and a stuck pickup truck without complaint. It pushed snow, carried mulch and mowed acres of meadow without so much as a groan. And to the delight of my entire family, it offered a new way to see the farm and to navigate largely unexplored areas. Best of all, with its two-person seating, the X2 Sportsman made it possible to carry supplies and a helper to remote wood-cutting sites and spirited couples on relaxing early evening rides. The machine’s drive train let us choose either two- or four-wheel drive depending on conditions, and it included a turf mode that helped keep wheels from scrubbing the lawn during sharp turns. The automatic descent control, which let the engine slow the vehicle on those white-knuckle downgrades, was invaluable when traversing the steep draws on our land. The ATV and its tools boldly went where our trucks and tractors have never dared tread. A year ago, I wondered what we would do with such a machine; today I wonder what we would do without it.
Agri-Fab’s award-winning 3-Point Hitch Trailer has multiple adjustment points to allow implements to tilt left or right, and it includes the lift system (winch and cable) and wiring sufficient to make a clean and professional installation. The hitch’s lift is controlled with a handheld switch, which is easily unplugged from the ATV when the 3-point trailer isn’t needed. Agri-Fab currently offers a box scraper, disc cultivator, grader blade, landscape rake and tang cultivator to fit its hitch. Scores of other small Category I 3-point hitch implements are available from other makers.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.