How to Choose the Best Compact Tractor for Small Farm Use

Buying the best compact tractor for small farm use includes considerations for what tractor horsepower you need, tractor attachments, new versus used, and more.

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Bradley Rankin

Buying a tractor for a farm, or an ATV and other equipment, is exciting, usually necessary, expensive, and not without risk. This post is for new farmers without much experience or knowledge and, while not a complete list of considerations, I hope the suggestions below will help you in your choices and approach to choosing the best tractor for small farm use.

Choosing the Best Tractor for Small Farm Use

  1. In general, more horsepower is better and safer – as is larger with a wider wheel base, depending on your application needs. My tractor is 46 horsepower. It didn’t take long for me to max out the lifting potential of my front-end loader, such as in lifting a large cultipacker. Second, it is not fun lifting stuff with your front-end loader and feeling your rear tires lift off the ground. With 46 horsepower, you will have more limitations compared to, say, 52 or 66 horsepower.
  2. Take into account your storage capabilities. The average number of purchased implements for tractors is three — most commonly a rotary cutter (i.e. a bush hog), a box blade, and a tiller. We were very lucky in that the size of a metal shed we had erected was large enough to accommodate my 3046R John Deere tractor with the bush hog behind it. However, the shed is too small for the next size up. That would have been good information to have had. Most other implements should be able to be safely stored outside your structure on pallets.
  3. I recommend buying a new versus used tractor. New tractor value holds and used ones do not save you much money. New tractors also have better payment options.
  4. Spend a lot of time early on learning how to safely use your PTO, mainly in attaching and detaching your bush hog. There are devices you can purchase (unique to each implement) to make this easier, and the same with all the shenanigans needed in attaching to your three-point harness. Most of my frustration with the tractor has been dealing with these issues — especially in cold weather.

Tractor Safety Considerations When Buying a New Tractor

There is plenty of good information out there on ATV, tractor, and lawn mower safety. Remember, safety is always number one. It can sound easy, but time is time, and sometimes we don’t think about safety fast enough. I would like to focus on two issues that apply to a broad spectrum of applications:

Know The Terrain and Equipment

Both are vital to your safety. Let’s say you buy or lease a farm and there is a field thick with thorns you want to bush hog in the month of July. Do you want to walk through all of it to check for objects or holes? Well not hardly, but walk it you must. Here are some examples of what got me into trouble.

Tractor Rolling Over

When we first took possession of the farm, it had been heavily logged. There was a lot of undergrowth to put it mildly. The weeds and grass were very tall, and I could not see much of the ground. I was traveling alone slowly in my side by side down my steep, old logging road complete with periodic berms. I was aware that a couple of them were higher than my clearance. For one of these, I went to the left of it and quickly returned to the road. I had no problems and went about my business.

On the return uphill (moving slowly in four-wheel drive) I was careful to retrace my previous route by taking a right around that same berm. But my lack of knowledge led to a big problem: The obscured hole created by how they made the berm led to a sideways roll when I tightly returned to the road. I was sure it was going to turn over on its side.

I didn’t think about it rolling down the hill or the fact that I had no cellphone service and my wife only knew I was at the farm. It was terrifying for about a second. And then somehow, I got it back on all four wheels and all was well. I then went back to the site and did what I should have done beforehand: I walked and checked it out.

I am not sure where I thought they found the dirt to make those berms! I learned a lot that day, including that you can’t take for granted that all four wheels will always stay on the ground. But I have learned, and I am perhaps a bit too nervous now with my ATV or tractor when not on level and dry ground. Also, never underestimate the danger of soft, wet ground with any machine.

Getting a Tractor Stuck

Being a good neighbor is of utmost importance out in the country. And being just that led to a potential problem. I had agreed to bush hog my neighbor’s front yard, which I was glad to do. It was indeed way too tall for his standard mower. And I also made an assumption and again I did not walk it. It turned out that there was a small, dry creek bed that I was crossing without problems until guess what? It got deeper and I got stuck with one rear wheel off the ground.

This was no major problem; it was just a question of how much time this was going to take. Then I remembered the small pedal behind by right foot – the differential lock that shifts all the energy to the dependent wheel and viola, that took care of it. Again, know your equipment. This worked great and saved the day.

Caution with Zero-Turn Mowers

Now, the tractor and side by side have good traction. This is not the case with a zero-turn mower. If the wheels did provide great traction, they would tear up your yard (a top customer complaint either way). The problem is that I did not realize that.

Early one morning, I was cutting my grass near an embankment pushing my luck on some wet grass and down it I went — there was no way I could stop it. So now I avoid that embankment like the plague and I also wait until the grass is dry.

Consider How You Will Use Your Machines

I would like to close with this last bit of advice:  always think of how to use your machines rather than your back. It does take some thought, but it can save you a lot of pain and potential injury.

One day, I was trying to manually move an old camper cover that was imbedded in the dirt until I decided that I needed a crowbar. I then thought why stop there? I got the tractor out and used the front-end loader and moved the item to a trash pile like it was a potato chip.

I hope this will help you get started. I am always amazed at how much fun and how satisfying all of this work is around the farm when you have the right compact tractor for a small farm.

Bradley Rankin farms several of the 48 acres at Bobcat Ridge Habitat Farm in rural Kentucky, where he and his wife also manage a woodlot to attract wildlife. When he is not tending woodlands and pasture, Bradley enjoys raised-bed gardening, rock collecting, tree identification, and astronomy.

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