PHOTO: Patrick Dalton/Flickr
With their countless uses and capabilities, tractors have secured their place as farm staples with unbeatable utilitarianism. Farm life is rife with time-consuming chores and tasks, and a well-kept tractor is crucial to getting that work done more efficiently.
Typical farm chores, such as plowing fields, cutting and baling hay, and transporting and feeding hay in the winter, are made easier by the use of the tractor; however, this machine is a true workhorse, going beyond the typical farm tasks when let out of the barn in the off-season.
Improve Access Roads
Whether you’re traveling from the barn to the pasture with a load of hay or toting veggies back from the garden, regularly used access roads on your farm eventually erode, becoming veritable rivers during rains. Attaching a bucket to the front-end loader and a box blade to the rear enables you to improve access roads, saving money on the high cost of a professional heavy-equipment operator.
“The center of the road bed should be about 3 inches higher than the shoulder of the road,” says Perry Oakes, state conservation engineer with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Auburn, Ala. “This helps divert runoff into the side drainage ditches.”
Use the tractor bucket on the front-end loader to move dirt from side ditches into the middle of the road and the box blade to drag and smooth it, raising the road bed and cleaning out the ditches. “Drainage ditches on the sides of the road should be at least 1 foot lower than the surface of the road,” Oakes says.
Using the bucket of the tractor, dump gravel from an on-farm creek or a load brought from another source on the road. The box blade or a scrape blade turned at an angle allows you to smooth out a top layer of gravel on your freshly graded road.
Tractor Maintenance Tip
All that dust and dirt can take a toll on your tractor. Once you’re finished with your road project, take time to check for any buildup in the air filter. “It takes a lot of air to run a diesel [engine], so you need to remove the air filter for a visual inspection to see if it needs changing,” says Scotty Hiett, a service technician for Kubota.
Whether you’re conducting a prescribed burn or installing a fence line through the woods, the tractor is ideal for building accompanying firebreaks, which slow or halt wildfires that encroach upon your property. A grapple for the front-end loader makes the job of removing limbs and small, fallen trees from the property a snap. Once all the debris is removed from the proposed firebreak or fence line, the scrape or box blade can be used to create a clear path or firebreak road through the woods.
Using a scraper that has an adjustable offset blade will remove leaf litter and debris, making a clean dirt break. After you’ve created the firebreaks, go back over the breaks to remove leaf litter prior to a prescribed fire. Often the width of a 6-foot scrape blade or box blade is all that’s needed to safely tend the perimeter of prescribed fires, but check local and state regulations and notify local fire officials before burning.
Although your tractor might regularly carry spray tanks for herbicide or pesticide applications, when filled with water, the tank is a useful tool for controlling fires that threaten boundaries. A small, maneuverable tractor is your best bet for this use.
Tractor Maintenance Tip
Using the tractor for work in deep, thick fields can cause the front grill to clog quickly with leaves, dust and other debris. Stop periodically to examine the front of the tractor on the grill cover and make sure there are no obstructions preventing free flow of air. While you’re checking for free airflow, inspect the rest of the tractor to make sure no sharp sticks have been flipped into the engine or penetrated tires. “Also, keep the radiator cleaned out and free of debris because this can overheat the engine and quickly cause long-term damage,” Hiett says.
Overheating due to radiator-debris buildup can void the warranty in many cases.
Tractor implements, such as a mechanical post driver or hole drill, are available to help hobby farmers erect fences quickly and easily. If you want to save yourself sore muscles and hours of tiring labor, consider implements that attach to the front or rear of your tractor.
Post-hole drills can be mounted to the three-point hitch or front bucket, which allows for greater downward pressure and quicker digging and can be operated exclusively from the tractor seat. Post drivers can be mounted to the front or rear of the tractor to push the post into the ground without using a power take-off-driven portion of the tractor.
Tractor Maintenance Tip
Safety is a top priority when it comes to operating your tractor and its attachments. In addition to safety features and proper technique, your equipment needs to be prepared for the job at hand. Before and after each use, check and service all implements and equipment. Grease all fittings at the recommended intervals, keep the fluids full, and service all blades or working parts, replacing any worn belts or moving parts.
A little ingenuity and extra care can go a long way to extending the work life of your tractor. Don’t bench your tractor when the garden is dormant—more chores await, and this barn tenant is ready to pitch in.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of Hobby Farms.