Approaching a crossroads?
I've documented my tractor struggles here on numerous occasions. I just don't get along that well with internal combustion engines, or many other mechanical devices: Bolts in awkward places that are rusty and hard to get off; Parts that are expensive and/or have to be mail-ordered; Parts that are clearly inferior to the original because the original is no longer made; Tasks that require specialized tools; lubricants that need refreshing... I could go on.
Some people like working on tractors, old cars, lawnmowers, and other such things, and come away with a great deal of satisfaction from getting and keeping them running. Me, I generally come away filthy, scuffed, scratched, sore, frustrated, and feeling like I did more harm than good. And that's when I succeed!
But a tractor can be a tremendously useful tool in the right hands. It can move and lift heavy things. It can help plow and disk soil. It can help with making hay or clearing brush. There must be hundreds of things a tractor can do around a farm. But most of those things require tractor implements. The tractor itself is just the power source.
I have two problems in this regard: 1) an unreliable power source (the tractor), and 2) a shortage of useful implements. The implements aren't cheap, and switching from one to another is not a five minute task. It always seems like it should be, but it never is. They are invariably heavy, and often almost as cantankerous as the tractor itself.
So I have a tool that should be useful but isn't. In someone else's hands, it almost certainly would be. In mine, it's a chew toy for livestock. After yet another bout of troubleshooting, getting help, spending money, and not being at all confident of results, I'm starting to reconsider. Maybe there's another solution.
Short of getting into draft animals (which I admit would be appealing, but for a variety of reasons, just isn't plausible at this point), I'm kicking around a different approach.
In a perfect world, what would I use the tractor for?
1. Mowing. We have a good bit of land, and other than the pond, it's pretty much all grass and/or brush. As much as I'm not a fan of the Oversized Lawn, I don't forsee a day in the near future when there won't be a good bit of grass. A certain portion of it is not suitable for making hay, which leads to...
2. Making hay. We need hay. Unfortunately, there's not really much equipment out there for making hay on our scale. It'd cost many thousands to get equipment for cutting, raking, and baling. And maybe I'm a wuss, but I do believe it's too much to tackle with a scythe and a rake.
3. "Sod-busting." As in, plowing, disking, and general seedbed prep. You see, I'd love to grow grains on a small to medium scale. Maybe sunflowers or root crops too. I'm not talking about acres and acres, but bigger than "garden scale."
...and surprisingly, that's about it. There are plenty of other things a tractor might be useful for, but none important enough to include in this equation. Our truck can generally serve the "pulling and moving heavy things" category.
The hay-making I could hire out. We need alfalfa hay for our picky cow, and the old-timers around here are telling me alfalfa would be a real pain for me to try to grow anyway. My soil would need ammending, the bugs would eat half of it, and it wouldn't be that great anyway. Better to plant a mixed pasture, have a neighbor cut it, bale it, and pay me for it, and then use that money to buy good alfalfa hay from somebody who's already growing it successfully.
The downsides of this approach are that we'd need to widen our pasture gates so that either of my local hay cutting neighbors could get their equipment in, and it would mean we'd be depending on somebody else. But as we wouldn't be using the hay, it would keep me from worrying about the quality, whether it was cut at the best time, etc. And we already depend on outside sources of hay anyway, but without the income from our own pastures.
That leaves the mowing of non-hay areas, and prep work for growing crops on a slightly larger scale.
If I sold the tractor, I could get a halfway decent mowing machine of some sort, and have plenty of money left over.
And with the extra, I could buy a nice walk-behind tractor, like a Grillo, or more likely, and old Gravely. It could be used for many of the same things as it's four-wheeled uncle, just on a much smaller scale. It could till more ground than a tiller. It could clear more brush than a mower. And it would be smaller and so hopefully, easier and cheaper to maintain.
Or maybe I just spend it all on really good two-wheel tractor, and make sure it's a capable mower and tiller.
Is this a good idea, or would I just be trading one set of problems for another. The devil you know or the devil you don't?
I don't know the answer. I'm just thinking...