The Fat Rancher has long lived by the credo “Better living through power tools!” Nowhere is this better demonstrated than choosing the heavy equipment for your ranch.
Every young person at one time or another dreams of extending their might via heavy equipment. Otherwise, why would there be so many toy tractors, dump trucks, and the like in the toy aisle? Realistically, power equipment extends the land manager’s reach by leveraging his or her skills through the magic of hydraulic power.
It is easy to get carried away with the selection of your first power equipment. But a similar risk exists in being too modest in your needs. Careful consideration of your immediate tasks along, with those that will crop up later, is a must to maximize your purchase.
Warning: Power Equipment may bite you in the ass if you aren’t mindful of its use. More than one weekend warrior has been maimed or killed by properly functioning power equipment carelessly used. Read the manual, never bypass safety features and always use protective equipment.
Consideration #1: Power and Weight of Your Power Equipment
I bought my first tractor used at Auction. Bad choice, but that’s a topic for another time. I purchased a Kubota L35 that included a backhoe in addition to the bucket loader. I figured that it would do whatever this city boy needed. After all, it had both a bucket and a backhoe, right?
The first time I tried to lift a round bale of hay, I learned two lessons: First, there is no substitute for lifting power and second, you better understand ballast. My tractor was not powerful enough to lift a round bale. Further, it was too light to keep all four wheels on the ground. While there wasn’t enough power to lift the bale, there was ample power to lift the rear wheels off the ground. As experienced operators know, this unbalanced condition makes tip-over of the 5,000-pound piece of equipment a very real possibility.
Think carefully about what you are going to do with your power equipment. There is nothing more frustrating than investing in a tool and then finding out it isn’t sufficient for your job. Note that many well-produced product demo videos are shot with sandy loam dirt. That makes a lot of land work look easy. In Texas, we don’t have much of that and rocky soil is a different kettle of fish. All bets are off when you start working with Fairlie clay and limestone rock.
Renting is a good way to get an idea of a product’s capabilities before you buy. Ask the salesman where to rent a similar model prior to buying it. Spending $500 on a weekend rental will be money well spent if you find product limitations prior to buying the unit. Are there no companies renting this equipment? Take into consideration why that might be.
Consideration #2: Flexibility in Attachments
My tractor was built before skid steer quick attach mounts were common for the bucket. So when I figured out that bucket attachments (various attachments that clamp to the bucket) can’t do everything, I was out of luck.
Skid Steer quick attach tools are made by literally everyone and their mother. You can buy cheap and light, expensive and heavy-duty, Chinese or American, flexible function or specific. They all use the same mount and (essentially) the same hydraulic interface. If you buy a bespoke machine, you will be limited to the manufacturer’s tools and prices.
Check out the Universal Fast Hitch for three point changes here.
Consideration #3: The Swiss Army Knife Option
We’ve all seen them: Marvels of modern ingenuity that slice, dice, spindle, and fold all in a single convertible product. The product videos are a marvel. “Watch an operator build an entire pool without leaving the seat of the Omnitractor 5000!” In reality, most of these products do many things, none of them professional-grade. There is a reason pros use specialized heavy equipment: They are optimized for a specific task at pro specs and speed.
So The Fat Rancher casts a jaundiced eye on power equipment that purports to be overly flexible. If your situation is an ultra-light duty, one of these might be just what you need. But I would bet that most hobby farmers are better off with buying a product designed for the tasks they perform weekly and then renting for specialized jobs.
The happy medium, of course, may be the tractor with the skid-steer quick attach and auxiliary hydraulics. However, even if you buy a good quality post-hole digger, you may find you don’t have enough front-end weight to drill in rocky soil. Similarly, you won’t have the maneuverability needed for a brush hog or trencher attachment.
Consideration #4: Four Wheel Drive
Yeah, you can save a few thousand dollars by foregoing the four-wheel-drive option. Don’t.
Reason 1: Unless you live in the desert, you are going to encounter clay and mud. The first time you have to muck home in your socks because your equipment is stuck (and your boots came off too!), you’ll be regretting your miserly tendencies. More than once The Fat Rancher’s daughter has had to fetch her cheap dad in the tractor when he ventured too close to the tank in the two-wheel-drive UTV. “Dad! Again?!”
Besides, deserts have sand. Sand is as bad as clay.
Reason 2: Four-wheel-drive gives you more torque for towing. This is especially valuable when tine-plowing.
Consideration #4: Serviceability
Always consider the serviceability of the ranch power equipment you are buying. Make sure that there is warranty service available locally with an option for “mobile mechanic.” You should have an alternative to trailering the equipment back to the dealer if there is a warranty repair or service bulletin requirement.
My tractor is a heartbreaker. It’s old and was ” ‘rode hard and put up wet” by the first owner. I’ve spent plenty fixing this and replacing that. It is frustrating when you get ready to do some work and the darn thing is broken.
You want parts nearby and technicians to handle the tasks you aren’t comfortable with. Extra points if the local dealer is willing to support you as weekend mechanic. The farm equipment folks understand that owners will make many repairs themselves due to limitations in time, money, and mobility of the equipment. They make money off the parts and often will support user repairs that aren’t too consuming.
Ranch power equipment, while not essential, makes operating the hobby ranch or farm much more productive.
Careful evaluation of your specific needs will leverage your investment of time and money.