All You Need to Know About Backhoes

Add versatile tools similar to tractor backhoes to your tool kit for more than digging power.

| July/August 2011

Fun to use and practical to own, the hydraulic backhoe provides you with back-saving methods to dig, move, remove, place and even lift. The best part is that if you already have a compact tractor or skid-steer loader, there’s a mounted backhoe model that will suit your immediate needs and add value to those machines. Don’t own a tractor or skid loader? No problem. You can opt for a towable backhoe that comes with its own power unit or perhaps a mini excavator, which may well be the Cadillac of diggers.

Around the farm, you might put a backhoe to use digging holes for large-diameter anchor posts or pole-barn posts. Backhoes also are handy for transplanting trees, digging out stumps, and moving large rocks and precisely placing them into the landscaping or stone walls. You also can use a backhoe to bury a deceased animal or dig a pit for roasting a pig. If you want to build a pond, use a backhoe to cut the keyway for the dam or line the spillway with rocks – and if it is a small pond, you can do much of the excavation itself with a backhoe.  

Size, price and capability run the gamut with backhoes, but for most non-commercial uses, a backhoe sized to your compact or utility tractor or skid loader will fit the bill nicely. You can always rent a larger model or hire a pro if your hoe isn’t up to the task. And since you will be likely to spend at least $5,000 for the attachment, it’s important to know what you want/need it to do before heading off to the dealer.  

The language of backhoes

These diggers trace their roots to early steam shovels and, as you might assume, there’s a language worth knowing for a meaningful discussion with your dealer. The backhoe attachment consists of a bucket, which is mounted to (and pivots on the end of) a dipper (dipper stick formally), with the dipper pivoting on the boom’s outer end. The boom is attached to a horizontal pivot point, which in turn is attached to the tractor through a vertical pivot point called the kingpost. The entire boom-dipper-bucket assembly slews left or right on the kingpost. The greater the slew angle, the easier it is to dig on one side of the machine and deposit material on the other.

The backhoe’s bucket also pivots on the end of the dipper in a movement called curl, or more formally, bucket curl. A backhoe optionally can be equipped with a thumb, which closes with the bucket to grab objects such as rocks and logs. Your dealer might throw out the phrase “bucket breakout force,” which is more or less the force in pounds applied to curl the bucket. More is generally better, especially if you intend to remove stumps.

Tractor-mounted hoe, what you need to know

Key statistics you need to know before heading off to your backhoe-attachment dealer include the hydraulic capacity of your tractor’s auxiliary system, how much weight your tractor is capable of carrying, how much weight your tractor’s three-point hitch is capable of lifting (if you intend to use a three-point-hitch attached backhoe), how deep you wish to dig, and how high you wish to lift or dump soil. Of course, if your tractor isn’t yet equipped with a front-end loader, you will need to arrange for one because it acts as ballast and stabilizer when you use the backhoe attachment.

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