Before you decide to buy a traditional tractor, you may want to consider a couple of unconventional options.
When we say “unconventional,” we mean it. These vehicles are so new there aren’t even words in common usage to describe them or what they do. However, that doesn’t mean these vehicles are untested. They’ve been used extensively in commercial industries such as landscaping and construction for years, and their dependability is indisputable. But they are new in the small-farm market, and we’re not entirely sure what to call them. So for lack of a more definitive name, we’ll refer to them as utility vehicles (UTVs) and loaders.
Based on the ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) platform, these handy four-wheel- and six-wheel-drive “utility vehicles” combine the mobility, durability and speed of an off-road vehicle with utility features such as dump-beds, winches, trailer hitches and even hydraulic attachments.
The John Deere Gator (see photo in the Image Gallery) is the best-known vehicle in this class and will appeal to farmers who favor John Deere. Many manufacturers make versions equipped to move small payloads on rough terrain with a minimum of fuss.
The new invention from Bobcat takes the utility vehicle to a higher level, however. The ToolCat (see photo in the Image Gallery) features a top speed of 18 mph, all-wheel steering, a front-end hydraulic lift capable of hoisting 1,500 pounds and an 18-cubic-foot dump bed with a 2,000-pound load capacity. Attachments include snow blowers, mowers, augers, grapples, grader blades and many others. We predict that some small farms eventually will do without a tractor and instead depend on a UTV such as the ToolCat.
Not to be confused with “front-end loaders,” these small, eminently maneuverable machines are based on “skid-steering”— this means they turn and pivot by controlling the rotational speed and direction of the loader’s wheels or tracks. These skid-steer loaders are specially adapted for farm chores with a full range of hydraulic attachments and are available in a wide spectrum of power ranges.
Many loaders come equipped with four brake-controlled wheels that allow the machines to pivot in place. This ability is quite valuable in tight quarters. For cleaning out stalls, nothing compares to a loader. Bobcat is the leading provider, and many farmers simply refer to the entire category as “Bobcats.”
The Minnesota manufacturer ASV specializes in rubber-tracked loaders for the small farm (see photo in the Image Gallery). The pressure put on the ground from the tracks of a 30 horsepower machine actually is less than a grown man’s footprint on a pounds-per-square-inch basis, and getting this machine stuck is almost impossible. An ASV loader glides over treacherous mud and deep snow, and, like its wheeled counterparts, the loader can pivot in place. A single joystick that governs speed and direction controls the loader’s movement. A second joystick controls the hydraulic arms on which attachments can be mounted.
Consider your own unique approach to managing your property — you may find one of these machines is a greater asset than a traditional tractor.
Read more: Learn about how compact tractors can make a difference on your farm in Discover Versatile Compact Tractors.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS Publisher and Editorial Director Bryan Welch runs Ogden Publications, which also owns Mother Earth Living, Utne Reader, Grit, and several other media brands focused on sustainability, natural health and rural lifestyles. Ogden Publications is a certified B Corporation and winner of multiple awards for corporate environmental stewardship. Welch’s award-winning book, Beautiful and Abundant: Building the World We Want, was published in 2010. Connect with him on Google+