Snow Removal Tips and Techniques for the Farm
With winter approaching, your tractor needs to be ready to face the elements. Consider some of these accessories to help your tractor tackle snow removal on the homestead.
By Tim Nephews
Sponsored by Kubota
Photos courtesy of Kubota
Depending on what part of the country you live in, the best weather of fall may already be behind you. I live in northern Minnesota, where early November and even October snowstorms are not unusual. Ten-inch snowfalls coupled with 25-mile per hour winds can create snowdrifts that can stop the best four wheel drive pickup in its tracks. If you live on a farm, ranch, or rural acreage in the Snowbelt, having the right implements and accessories for your tractor to move snow is a major consideration.
If you already own a tractor that you use on your acreage, or if you are considering purchasing one, there are several options available for snow removal. Whether you have an 18-horsepower subcompact or a 100-horsepower tractor, there are three types of snow removal implements to make your tractor a winter workhorse.
Front-End Loaders (FEL)
One of the most useful and versatile attachments for a tractor is the front-end loader (FEL). For moving fill, manure, or materials, FELs are invaluable year-round on your farm or acreage. When the snow flies, they also double as snow removers. For all their versatility, one big disadvantage of FELs is that their buckets are designed for weight, not volume. That means they quickly fill with snow and require frequent dumping. They also can be hard on lawns and paved driveways if the bucket is angled too sharply.
Front- or Rear-Mounted Blades
Front- and rear-mounted blades are another simple and cost-effective option for snow removal. If you already own a blade that is used for road maintenance it can serve a dual purpose in the winter. The benefit of using a front-mounted blade is that they are easier to use due to their mounting on the front of the tractor, allowing you to drive forward when using one. One of the biggest disadvantages of a front-mounted blade is that, in most cases, they require an additional sub-frame assembly to allow you to attach the blade to the front of the tractor. While this makes mounting the blade easier, it also adds to the total cost of the blade.
Because rear-mounted blades are attached using the three-point hitch on the tractor, there is no additional cost. They may also be used to drive forward to move snow, but in effect, you end up driving over the snow before you move it forward. A big benefit of the rear-mounted blade is that you can use it in conjunction with your FEL, giving you the ability to get into tight areas around buildings where your loader can’t reach (allowing you to pull the snow away from structures).
The cost of purchasing either a front-mounted or rear-mounted blade can vary dramatically depending on configuration. Options such as moldboards or the ability to angle blades manually or hydraulically can quadruple the price of a basic blade, depending on size and features.
Snow blowers for Tractors
Front- or rear-mounted snow blowers are among the best options for moving lots of snow efficiently. Tractor-mounted blowers function similarly to traditional self-propelled walk-behind residential blowers in that they both use a power source to activate both a horizontal and vertical auger to cut through and discharge snow away from the driveway. With a tractor-mounted blower, the power to turn the augers is provided by either a rear Power Take Off (PTO) or an optional front PTO. The rear-mounted snow blower is attached to the tractor with the standard three-point hitch, whereas a front-mounted blower uses an optional quick attach sub-frame for mounting.
The biggest advantage of using a front-mounted blower over a rear mount is the ability to drive forward while removing snow. The increased visibility and maneuverability of a front mount can save you time and potential damage to property that can be obscured by the rear mount. Also, using a rear mount can be a literal pain in the neck. Rear-mounted blowers require you to go in reverse to blow snow, so if you have long areas to clear of snow, you can spend hours looking over your shoulder, which can put a lot of strain on your body. An advantage of the rear-mounted blower (as mentioned earlier with a rear blade) is that you can take advantage of your FEL to move snow piles along the driveway or that build up around buildings over the winter.
Although front-mounted blowers have some great benefits over rear mounts, with those benefits comes additional cost. The sub frame attachment necessary for a front-mounted blower plus things like hydraulics to raise and lower the blower and control chute discharge can add up quickly: a front mount with hydraulics can be double the price of a rear mount, depending on size and horsepower range. Finally, if you are operating a blower on a gravel surface, you’ll want to elevate it an inch above the gravel to avoid throwing rocks.
Weight and Balance Considerations
Regardless of which snow removal options you select, it’s imperative that you add some form of additional weight distribution to your tractor. Wheel weights, a ballast box, or front/rear frame-mounted weights are necessary to safely and efficiently operate your tractor on snow or ice. See your local dealer to determine what is needed. Make sure that you always utilize your Rollover Protection Structure (ROPS) and the seat belt when moving snow.
Tim Nephew lives in Northwestern Minnesota where he and his wife manage their 80 acres of wildlife habitat, with a few acres set aside for growing grapes.