How do you decide what size of tractor is right for your business? Andy Collings passes on some tips aimed at stock farmers
It’s pretty easy to buy a new tractor – your local dealer will be more than pleased to supply anything you ask for and possibly more. But ensuring it’s the right tractor for your business is not always so straightforward.
Strange as it might seem, few farmers – and even fewer livestock farmers – actually take the trouble to discover what they actually want from a tractor.
According to Gordon Day, John Deere’s agricultural marketing manager, taking the time to analyse what the key jobs required of the new tractor is essential.
“You don’t buy a car or a pick-up without first assessing how many miles it will be used for, what it will be asked to carry and how much fuel it is going to use – so why not perform the same exercise when purchasing a new tractor?” he asks.
And just to emphasise the point, Mr Day points out that tractors are manufactured in a wide range of specifications and power bands so there’s plenty to choose from.
What jobs will it do?
So, let’s take a dairy farmer as an example, and look at the jobs the new tractor could be asked to do and how these tasks reflect on the model and specification of tractor required.
To start with, let’s accept that dairy farmers tend not to be the biggest advocates of sophisticated electronic systems. Most prefer, in the main, for a tractor to lean more towards the basic build – an engine, transmission, hydraulic linkage, a steering wheel and little else beside.
It has to be recognised though, that if the intention is to keep a tractor until it’s 10 years old or more, there is a good argument for avoiding excessive dependence on electronic systems that may be expensive to repair and, for a tractor which may be destined to end its days scraping slurry, not needed.
One of the main tasks on most dairy farms is the mixing of rations using a mixer wagon – a job which is normally performed every day of the year with no respite. The pto power requirement is not particularly high for most types of mixer wagons – it is the transportation of what may be a 20t load which is the real consideration.
Underpowered and lightweight?
Steep greasy slopes can pose real problems for lightweight tractors in terms of traction and braking. Another consideration is the height and length of the tractor for manoeuvring safely around buildings and down narrow feed passages.
In these circumstances a tractor in the 120hp bracket with a short wheelbase and a good steering lock would be the obvious requirement.
The tractor may be destined to spend long hours pumping slurry for an umbilical spreading system or some other pto driven equipment. It could also be powering the milking parlour in the event of a prolonged electrical power failure.
If so, fuel consumption needs to be considered. An economy pto drive is an essential feature (and may be standard) but check it has one.
Fit a light bar
Is the tractor going to be used for top dressing grassland? If so, the purchase of a tractor with some form of GPS guidance system (or one to which it could be retrofitted) could be useful.
A simple light bar system can now be purchased for about £1,000, which equates to less than a handful of tonnes of fertiliser which could be easily saved by more accurate driving.
Modern dairy farms also use bedding machinery – hydraulically powered units which can shred and spread bales of straw where loose housing is used. So having a tractor that can provide a suitable oil and pressure flow is an important consideration.
Unless you travel big distances, there may be little point in spending out cash for a 50kph transmission however. The extra 10kph amounts to very little time saved and there’s extra stress on braking systems.
As cab and axle suspensions work their way down to smaller tractors, you may well decide that a tractor with front suspension will be worth the expense because it’ll provide a more pleasant experience.
If on the other hand, you don’t believe in investing in operator comfort, it’s worth bearing in mind that most tractor manufacturers offer base models which do not have a cab and rely on a roll bar for safety.
A good shuttle system is a must here. Most tractor manufacturers offer clutchless versions which can be set to give an automatic 20% reduction in speed when reversing, for example.
Remember that loader work puts heavy demands on front axles and tyres – so choosing the right tyres at this point is important.
MF: With its 101hp, 4cyl, 4.4 litre engine, the MF 4455 tops the manufacturer’s 4400 Series range. Able to turn its hand to most jobs required on a dairy farm, its features include an optional mechanical shuttle.
JD: John Deere’s 5M Series tractors are available in five models from 70 to 100hp and have a short frame design which could make those tight turns achievable when on mixer wagon duties.
DF: Deutz-Fahr’s Agrofarm 430 is rated at 109hp and has a hydraulic power shuttle to ease those repetitive loader cycles. Compact, with braking on all four wheels, this tractor could be a consideration for a tractor required for yard and field work.
NH: This New Holland 6020 is rated at 112hp, has the manufacturer’s Electro Command transmission and a surprisingly high rear linkage lift capacity of 7,864kg.
Tafe: Built in India, the TAFE tractors have a certain nostalgic charm about them while providing a relatively low cost workhorse for the livestock farmer.