Let’s face it, you live on the land because you love the peace and quiet, lack of nosy neighbors, and having the ability to look after a beloved piece of property in any way you want. There’s no shortage of tools to help you get it all done in a day, but one of your most significant investments is your tractor. Truth be told, your tractor makes work fun, and you actually look for ways to get more quality seat time – driving the property lines is OK, but couldn’t you be more productive? Thanks to thoughtful and efficient modern designs, your tractor doesn’t need to be just a tractor. With a few extra attachments, it can become a major labor-saver as you build your life out there.
Though named for its powerful pulling ability, the modern tractor is so much more than a towing machine. It can be a tool carrier, electrical generator, crane, excavator, portable hydraulic power source, and much more. We’ve selected five of the most versatile and useful categories of tools that, when attached to your tractor, will offer you legitimate seat time in every season.
Most compact tractors sold today are equipped with a factory-mounted front-end loader attachment, and for good reason. The loader takes advantage of the tractor’s integral hydraulic system to help you get all kinds of work done. Most loader-equipped tractors come with a utility bucket attachment, which allows you to dig, lift, grade, load materials, spread materials, and carry heavy and/or bulky things around the farm — often in an improvised way.
Swap out the utility bucket for a snow bucket if you live where the winters are long and the white stuff gets deep. Attach a pair of pallet forks to the loader, and your tractor becomes a light-duty forklift. Have lots of large hay bales to move and toss over the fence? Add a loader-mounted bale-spear attachment. Need to do a bit of heavy lifting? You can add a boom pole attachment in place of the bucket. And the list goes on.
Everything from hydraulic earth auger to grapple fork to root rake attachments can be swapped for the utility bucket to make your loader really work.
These days, front-end loaders are easy to remove from the tractor (and even easier to mount) should you wish to do so. However, most compact tractor owners tend to leave the loader in place — even though it can get in the way at times — for the simple reason that it is generally the most used and versatile attachment for the machine. If you are looking at a couple of days of mowing, it’s probably worth the few minutes to remove the loader — you will have better maneuverability and there will be less wear and tear on the machine.
Three-point hitch mowers
The rear of all modern tractors is equipped with a three-point hitch and power take-off that conform to specific engineering standards. Most compact tractors have a Category I three-point hitch and a rear PTO that spins at 540 rpm. The hitch uses hydraulic pressure to position rear-mounted attachments, while the PTO powers those that need power. One category of implement that makes use of both and makes light the work of property maintenance is the mower.
There are many types of mowers out there, but the two you are most likely to need are the rotary cutter and the finish mower.
The rotary cutter (often called a brush hog) is a robust attachment that uses the tractor PTO’s substantial power to muscle its blades through tall grass, scrubby shrubs and even saplings up to 3 inches or more in diameter. This is the attachment you need to keep the township happy with your borrow ditches and your meadows free from woody encroachment. Folks who practice various forms of management intensive grazing also will follow their animals with a rotary cutter to mow just-grazed paddocks to a uniform height. The rotary cutter is arguably the most important mower attachment for your tractor, unless you have no rough country to maintain or you need something to make hay with instead.
For folks whose country estate includes several acres of lawn, a three-point hitch mounted finishing mower makes sense. The tractor-mounted groomer will help you get more value from the tractor, and it generally costs less to purchase than a stand-alone mowing machine capable of caring for the same amount of acreage. These mowers generally use three high-speed blades and offer substantial anti-scalping technology — they should never be used to mow rough country.
The three-point hitch-mounted earth auger is indispensable for folks who have lots of fence posts to set, enjoy building small pole-type buildings — for their hogs, chickens, sheep, you name it — gazebos and trellises, and even for transplanting large numbers of small to medium-sized trees. This device consists of a three-point hitch-mounted frame from which a PTO-driven (or hydraulic) power head hangs. The power head can be fitted with heavy-duty auger bits that range in diameter from 4 inches to more than 12 inches.
This tool uses the tractor’s PTO (or hydraulic pump) to turn the auger bits, and the hitch’s hydraulics position the bit, making it easy to bore straight holes to at least 3 feet deep. Only you can decide what those holes are for, but it will take you a fraction of the time to dig them with this attachment than it would with a manual posthole digger (See Image Gallery).
The three-point hitch-mounted rotary tiller is indispensable to the small farmer, market gardener, nursery person, or property owner with a large garden. Like the earth auger, the tiller attaches to and is positioned by the three-point hitch and is powered with the PTO. The rotary tiller consists of a framework to which a gearbox and horizontal shaft are mounted. Knife-like tines are fixed to the horizontal shaft and pulverize the soil when the shaft is rotated (See Image Gallery).
Some tractor-tiller tines rotate in the forward direction, and others rotate opposite. Generally, a reverse tine rotation will result in a smoother seedbed with fewer passes at the cost of utilizing more tractor power. Forward rotation tends to cause the tiller to push the tractor, but it can be more effective in rocky or tough ground. Either way, the tiller takes the place of land plow, disc, field cultivator and, in some cases, even a row cultivator when some of the tines are removed.
Nothing says living in the country like a well-graded graveled lane, but there’s so much more that a rear-mounted earth-sculpting attachment can do around your place. The attachments in question fall into the box blade (box scraper in some references) and angle blade categories — both can help maintain your lane, and both can help you move snow, grade building sites, scrape manure and more.
The box blade is a three-point hitch attachment that doesn’t make use of the PTO at all. These implements consist of a U-shaped rectangle that’s open to the front with two curved cutting edges mounted to the back at the bottom. The cutting edges are designed to shave soil or gravel when moving in either direction, and, when moving forward, those materials accumulate within the box for you to distribute elsewhere.
Many box blades also have retractable scarifier teeth that you can lower to help rip up particularly hard ground. Use the box blade to grade pole building floors, landscaping and the lane. Adjust the three-point hitch’s arms to tilt the box scraper and create a crown on your lane or move material from the lane’s edge closer to the middle. If you are looking at a serious road-building project, the box scraper will serve you better than an angle blade.
The three-point hitch-mounted angle blade consists of a curved graderlike blade with a hardened cutting edge mounted in a frame that allows it to pivot left to right and to tilt several degrees on either side of horizontal. The angle blade makes short work of pulling lane materials from the edges to the middle, and the combination of angle and tilt can be used to your advantage when maintaining shallow ditches or cutting new ones in fairly soft materials. While it’s possible to do the earth-moving tasks — such as leveling an area for a corral — with an angle blade, the box blade is more efficient in that capacity. If you scrape lots of manure, move a lot of snow, and have a long lane to keep graded, the angle blade will save you time.
You can add even more attachments for your tractor as the need arises. Want to make some hay? Let your tractor pull and power the required implements. Plan to seed small grains or prairie grasses? There’s a drill available in just the right size. Have lots of wood to split? Why not invest in a three-point hitch-mounted splitter? The possibilities are endless.
GRIT Editor in Chief Hank Will employs his loader-equipped compact tractor to press T-posts into the earth, among other less conventional operations — don’t try this at home …
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+.