Wednesday, March 25, 2009

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...


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At 3/26/2009 10:16 AM, Blogger Will said...

I grew up with a gravley, and if I found one cheap I'd buy it in a heartbeat. Then again, I am precisely the type of person who has a bit of a 'thang' for internal combustion, so my opinioin should reflect that.

I suspect that your real issue isn't with tractors in general, just your particular model.(old and therefor cheaper)

I would agree that you could get a lot out of a good 2 wheel tractor (i.e. gravley, DR etc.) as long as you have neighbors to cut your hay.

I'd start cruising CraigsList for a gravley if I were you.

I wish I lived closer to help keep your tractor happy!

At 3/26/2009 9:48 PM, Blogger Wendy said...

I'd probably sell the tractor ... and buy a donkey and a plow :). But animals I understand. Machines? Not so much :).

Good luck in your quest for the best solution.

At 3/27/2009 12:22 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Man, Rob loves his Grillo and it comes with all the attachments you need, and it's small enough to fit through small doorways. I really think that might be what you want.

Not to mention it would sped up all your garden prep and if you got a diesel one you could run it on biodiesel in the future.

Rob has sold me on a grillo if I ever need a tractor type of device. A real tractor might be overkill for you at this stage.

At 3/29/2009 6:51 PM, Blogger Beo said...

Price break down on the Grillo - I wouldn't go any smaller than a 85D (what I have), a 107 would be better for mowing due to its wheel brakes

107D (Gas, pull start) $2700
27" Tiller $510
45" Grease Sickle Bar $900

If you're breaking sod I STRONGLY recommend the rotary plow
Delivery $500
Total: $4600 - $5700

E4 I know you know this all, I am just posting for general consumption...

That said, cutting an acre of hay with a good scythe from Scythe Supply is really not that hard at all - The Amish dry them in stacks hereabouts just fine.

However, if you go deisel (add $1200 :( ) then you have no electrical system at all on the Grillo - when I asked Joel at Earth Tools how to winterize my Grillo w/ the lombardini 8hp diesel this past year he literally laughed and said "park it in the shed and change the oil before 2010". Simple, simple tool. My engineering friends go all gooey over its design everytime I bring it out too.


At 8/14/2010 4:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, implements of farmage are a HUGE bane in my life. Brian is ALL farm-boy (oops, he's the hub), and he drives me CR-azy with the need for implements of destruction. One time he spent two hours just hooking up a front shovel thing to his "H" (<Farmall)... to the point where I grabbed a dad-gum shovel and was out getting the job half done before the dang-blasted tractor was ready. Irks me to NO end.

OTOH, now that we've moved to a one-acre homestead, I *wish* we had the room to do hay/corn/wheat. It's just not in the cards for us, I guess...



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