Earth-Moving Equipment for the Homestead

Check out this primer on the versatile machinery that can help you tackle those daunting projects around your property.

| October/November 2019

kioti
Photo from Kioti

People dream about and acquire rural land or acreage for many different reasons. They may long to return to their abandoned rural roots, or desire to live self-sufficiently by growing their own food and livestock.

Regardless of your reason for owning land, the ability to move, shape, smooth, or contour your property efficiently requires the right implements and equipment. From constructing roads, to designing landscapes, to creating building sites, there are equipment options for any size of earth-moving job.

Bulldozers

For moving soil, sand, general rubble, and tree stumps, nothing can compare to a dedicated bulldozer. Bulldozers, or “crawlers” (continuous tracked tractors), come in a variety of sizes and configurations. In essence, a bulldozer is a diesel tractor sporting tracks instead of wheels, with a substantial metal blade mounted on the front, and sometimes a set of “rippers” — claw-like teeth mounted on steel — attached to the rear. The blade can articulate in either direction or pitch, and the rippers are used to break up dirt, compacted soil, or pavement as the bulldozer moves over it.



Typically, bulldozers are used in heavy construction or road building. They can be useful to a new landowner if it’s necessary to cut a road into the property or if excessive tree removal is required. Bulldozers are often used to clear old windbreaks from smaller fields, and to create more land that can be utilized for farming. Leveling land for building sites, livestock enclosures, or loafing sheds is also easily accomplished with a bulldozer.

Even a well-used bulldozer can be expensive, with prices ranging from $30,000 up to $200,000 or more. Because of the initial price and maintenance costs of a full-sized bulldozer, it’s rarely cost-effective for most landowners. While bulldozers can be rented for $300 to $500 per day or $1,200 to $1,500 per week, depending on size and capability, operating a bulldozer without extensive experience is probably not the most cost-effective choice. It’s often a much better investment to hire a professional to do the work.

Loaders

Smaller than bulldozers, but used in a variety of earth-moving applications and construction, loaders offer great versatility and come in many styles, sizes, and configurations. They may have tracks or wheels, and offer various engine sizes. They also may come equipped with front blades for pushing material, like a bulldozer does, or have front-loader buckets for different applications. Here’s a brief description of some of the more common loaders.

john-deere 
A tractor-mounted backhoe is useful for trenching and installing culverts. Photo from John Deere

Backhoes

Great multitasking loaders, backhoes have applications in both construction work and around the farm. Equipped with a large bucket in front and a hydraulic shovel for deep excavation in back (the “backhoe”), they can tackle any job, from moving materials, to general digging, to trenching and backfilling. Although backhoes are versatile, they, too, are probably more geared toward professional operators.

The cost of a new, full-sized backhoe is driven by size, configuration, and horsepower, and may range from $26,000 to $150,000 or more. You can rent a backhoe for anywhere from $350 per day and $1,500 per week to much more, but by hiring a skilled backhoe operator, you can tackle many projects in a short time with one piece of equipment, saving time and money in the end.

kubota
Skid-steer loaders come in handy for a variety of chores, such as moving hay. Photo from Kubota

Skid-Steer Loaders

These small, rigid-framed wheeled loaders are mainstays in construction and land­scape work. The term “skid-steer” comes from the turning design of the loader, in which the wheels are synchronized in left- and right-side pairs, and the pairs operate independently. Operating the pairs at different speeds “skids” one pair of tires across the ground, which allows a zero-turn radius. This mobil­ity, co­mbin­ed with a multitude of attachments, from snowblowers to post-hole diggers, makes skid-steers maneuverable and capable of working in tight spaces.

Farmers and ranchers find skid-steers versatile for chores, such as cleaning stables or barns. The skid-steer also comes in a tracked version to limit damage to sensitive ground surfaces, such as lawns, sod, or sand. The price of a new skid-steer loader will vary by manufacturer, size, and horsepower, but expect to pay $12,000 to $60,000. If you have experience operating large equipment, renting one may be a cheaper option if you only have a few projects that require its versatility. Rentals run about $200 to $350 per day and $700 to $1,500 per week, depending on the model.

Mini-Track Loaders

A great option for smaller jobs that require operating in close quarters, mini-track loaders resemble small skid-steers that you walk behind or stand on to operate. They’re equipped — as their name implies — with a set of tracks that allows them to go over soft ground with minimal impaction. Mini-track loaders were designed to replace the wheelbarrow and shovel. They can be configured with many attachments that make them suitable for a wide variety of jobs, including digging footings; breaking up concrete; leveling ground; grinding stumps; hauling supplies, such as pavers and cement blocks; and carrying debris. New mini-track loaders start at about $12,000 and may cost $90,000 or more. They’re a great rental option for jobs that require a lot of manual labor. Mini-track loaders are widely available at rental shops and can be rented for about $150 per day and $700 per week.



Tractors

Although bulldozers and loaders are excellent dedicated earth-moving equipment, a tractor with matched implements can provide a rural landowner with a good solution for moving material. Plus, a tractor has the versatility of three-point implements and power takeoff (PTO) for other tasks.

Without going into details on type or model, price tags start at about $10,000 for a compact utility tractor and go up to $20,000 to $250,000 for mid- and full-sized tractors. After you choose a tractor, consider the following implements for small to mid-sized tractors to help with various earth-moving applications.

massey-ferguson
Front-end loaders are great for moving dirt on your property. Photo from Massey Ferguson

Front-End Loaders

Front-end loaders are one of the most beneficial and useful tractor attachments for rural uses. Loaders are matched to the specific tractor frame and horsepower, and start at around $3,000, depending on size and quality.

A quality loader is constructed of good material and can withstand the stress and heavy use you’ll likely put it through. Poor craftsmanship or inferior construction in a loader may result in bent or damaged buckets from ordinary use. The ability to add different types of bucket attachments — depending on the type of material you’re moving — is also a benefit when purchasing a loader for your tractor. Buy a loader that’s specifically matched to your tractor, both to assure you it’ll work well, and to maintain the warranty it’s likely to come with.

Tractor-Mounted Backhoes

A versatile and affordable option for a rural landowner, tractor-mounted backhoes come in a variety of sizes to match your tractor model and horsepower. Some of the many uses of the backhoe include digging out stumps and footings, installing culverts, and building ponds.

Prices for tractor-mounted backhoes can range from $6,000 to $15,000, depending on the model and capability. While not in the same category as a dedicated backhoe, tractor-mounted backhoes can handle a lot of jobs that would otherwise require hiring the work out. Another benefit of adding a backhoe to the back of your tractor is that it will provide additional overall stabilization when you’re hauling fill or removing excavated material with the front-end loader.

yanmar
Suitable for leveling ground and maintaining roads, box blades are effective implements. Photo from Yanmar 

Box Blades

Designed to be mounted on the tractor’s three-point hitch, box blades are a great material-moving option when you’re landscaping, leveling ground, or maintaining roads. Box blades come in various sizes matched to the tractor’s horsepower and tire width.

Box blades are equipped with blades on the front and back of the box, allowing you to either push or pull material for a short distance. Most are equipped with shanks that can be adjusted up or down to break up the ground as they’re pulled along. The cost of a new box blade will vary, ranging from $400 to $1,800, depending on the width of the box blade and the manufacturer.

As with most implements, make sure the box blade you purchase has quality steel in both the front and back blades, where most of the stress is placed during use. Adjustable shanks are also important, and often absent in lower-quality box blades.

farmall
Use rear blades to grade your driveway and cut shallow ditches. Photo from Case IH

Rear Blades

Useful for moving and shaping soil, rear blades can be used for leveling materials, cutting shallow ditches, and moving or dragging material. Rear blades come in a variety of configurations, with the ability to change the angle, pitch, and offset of the blade. Some models can swivel 180 degrees to allow the blade to be dragged in reverse, which makes tasks such as leveling driveways much easier. New high-quality rear blades start at $300 and go up to $1,800, depending on capability and size.


A regular Mother Earth News contributor, Tim Nephew lives in rural Minnesota, where he owns and maintains 80 acres of wildlife habitat.






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