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Tractor sizing

Posted by Ethan Gouge 
Tractor sizing
December 18, 2016 08:39PM
My farm (and value of my time) has grown to where I have outgrown my BCS two wheel tractor and am looking for a full 4 wheel farm tractor. I'm hoping the forum can give me some advice on horsepower, size and specs of a tractor for orchard tasks. Given my terrain 4x4 is a must, and in following haphazard mulching and composing, a front loader will be required. Farm specs: 3 acres raspberry/ blueberry production, 6 acres of m111 apple trees nearing fruiting age, 10 acres of woods that will need to be cleared for future apple plantings. Size of orchard could reach 20+ acres. All tree planting so far have required mechanical digging of holes due to size and proliferation of rocks so a backhoe option could be useful. How helpful is a flail mower to this biological apple growing? Thanks!

Roan Highlands Farm 6b, Roan Mountain, TN elevation: 3200 ft.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/18/2016 11:47PM by Ethan Gouge.
Re: Tractor sizing
December 20, 2016 02:54AM
Do yourself and your future tractor a favor and hire the stumping out. Otherwise, you would not be sorry for something in the 50hp range. It will drag logs, dig ditches with a backhoe attachment and plow snow with chains on the rear. I do all of the above and spray four acres of standard rootstocks with a 100 gallon PakTank.

I bought mine five years ago, used for three years, from a dealer as a package with used and new attachments. Forks are well worth the investment. At some point a flail mower will be considered. To start with I went for a 6' brush hog; it does fine for the three times I mow the orchard, and has more utility in establishing and maintaining other roads and areas on the property. I also got a backhoe attachment. The breakout force, speed of operation and fine control all pale in comparison to a proper excavator, so stumping should be kept to a minimum. It is used yearly in ditch and road maintenance, so is an asset. Got Farmi? A logging winch is a great tool for firewood and clearing land. It also acts as a counter weight for snow plowing and while you learn your tract it will pull you out after trying to push snow too far off the shoulder. Finally if you get a plow, it is well worth the cost to have one that hydraulically pivots left/right.

I bought Kubota. I shopped other brands and wound up with the most affordable package in orange, even though blue and red also had used equivalents; I think it came down to the dealer. The front end loader is set up for Skid Steer type quick release implements. Makes changing a snap if you keep the latches lubed; a difficulty at colder temps. A 6' bucket was included. I like my fresh air, so did not opt for a cab. I did cob a canopy primarily from plywood and attached it to the ROPS, then covered it with a heavy duty tarp. Four years later, I need to re-tarp, but the frame remains steadfast.

Trailer? Get one of these:I tried a combination of other approaches and in the end this would have been cheaper and is the solution. (Note: not my photobucket account. image found through search engine and linked as found.)

Factor in maintenance. Every 200 hours run time, which so far happens about twice a year, I go through $500.00 of fluids and filters. I used a manual greaser for a couple years. I now use one powered by compressed air. Front end loaders like to be lubed ever 8 hours of use or so as do pivot points on the front axle. Then there are lube points on the drive shafts to anything coming off the PTO and the attendant attachment with moving parts. I have also had to replace the front tires from wear and tear, that was $500.00 for off brand rubber as the tractor came with Goodyear. The sensors that tell the computer which position the tractor seat is in and whether an operator is in it went hinkey two years ago, so the tractor was apt to shut itself down when going down an incline. I had months previously shelled out almost $200.00 dollars for the shop manuals, so I had access to the wiring harness diagram and was able to obviate those parts. The rear brakes are at their end of adjustment, so that tome will come in handy some time this winter as I tear into the rear housing and replace the plates required. Oh yah, factor in a 2+ ton jack and jack stands, $300.00, to ease mounting / removing chains and other inevitable repairs.

In the end realize that nothing you do here is going to be cheap.

Lakes Region NH @ 1200' or so

393 planted towards a 440 goal mixed apple, pear, plum and apricot...
Re: Tractor sizing
December 20, 2016 04:23AM
Great info, thanks. I hadn't figured maintenance to be that costly. You've got me thinking twice about a backhoe, I've got a good excavator guy who has dug my tree holes and otherwise it would just be for creek maintenance. What Kubota model? Were there any maneuverability considerations on your farm to factor in tractor size and turn radius? What type of transmission does it have? With that Pac Tank full is there any rear hydraulic lift considerations or counterweight considerations up front? At what tractor size would this be an issue? I know the hp to width ratio for a brush hog is around 5:1, what about for a flail mower? Can anyone chime in on the necessity of a flail mower for scab control, vole habitat, building fungal duff, etc? We only get a few good snows every winter so snow cover is not a factor in orchard habitat.

Roan Highlands Farm 6b, Roan Mountain, TN elevation: 3200 ft.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/20/2016 04:31AM by Ethan Gouge.
Re: Tractor sizing
December 20, 2016 06:35AM
> You've got me thinking twice about a backhoe, I've got a good excavator guy who has dug my tree holes and otherwise it would just be for creek maintenance.

My first year of planting, I dug the holes and almost all were too deep; a result of operator learning curve and machinery limitations. The second year, I hired out. Dug faster and with almost no hole too deep. Plus, I cluged a screen out of chain link fence gates that strapped to my forks. As the holes were dug, the buckets were emptied onto the screen and shook free of rocks and turf. Makes refilling holes easier, although you will need make-up dirt from elsewhere to replace the volume of rocks not returning.

> What Kubota model?


> Were there any maneuverability considerations on your farm to factor in tractor size and turn radius?

I was planning on a 20x20 pitch, so I was looking for a tractor that was relatively compact, but knew of all the jobs it would be required to do I should hold to 50hp. Paper specs between manufacturers in this range are so close, that the real break point is more when you go up frame size and enter the tractor proper at 60hp. Up until that point, the market considers us consumers of miniature or compact tractors.

> What type of transmission does it have?

HST. All my personal vehicles since the first, through to my current, have been manuals. My left knee has begun to remind me that my next infernal cumbustion transveyance should be automatic. To that end I thought that HST would be the bees knees. I now know that you trade a HP or two for that convenience. I also am now aware that the hydraulic system has a bypass which over the years can start to fail and rob you of HPs. What's a person to do? I will think strongly about shuttle shift when the time comes to replace this one; I can hope I get that many years to come…

>With that Pac Tank full is there any rear hydraulic lift considerations or counterweight considerations up front?

After consulting with the vendor, and Michael, it was proffered I could strap the 150 gallon to my rig. Fully loaded there would be no issue with the rear hydraulics as they are supposed to lift 3000lbs. Cost was one factor why I chose less capacity. Pitch of the road to my orchard cemented the issue. For maneuverability I leave the bucket behind, but do keep the front loader on for counter weight. The rows in the orchard essentially run North / South. That grade, along with the switch back road leading up to it, ranges from 5 to 12% grade. The tractor feels quite planted on the approach and up and down rows fully loaded, and I have extracted myself from other loads that have lifted both one and two tires off the ground. To turn between rows or go East / West, I have to choose the upper most or middle of the orchard where flat spots exist.

> I know the hp to width ratio for a brush hog is around 5:1, what about for a flail mower? Can anyone chime in on the necessity of a flail mower for scab control, vole habitat, building fungal duff, etc?

I just floogled flail mower and am wondering if you are not talking now about a sickle bar mower? That seems to be what Michael favors. I think it has to do with laying down of the whole stalk as opposed to mincing it fine. Someone else can pick up the details there. The brush hog approximates this by leaving many whole seed heads and multi inch long sections of grass. Another consideration is the length of the unit behind the tractor makes it an exercise in attention when maneuvering. I will admit to chewing two new trees through fatigue by mowing too long. I now budget two days to mow four acres and can now do so with barely a dent in a rodent guard; munched a couple of them too early on. A sickle would be easier to monitor as it would only be barley over your shoulder as opposed to fully behind you with the brush hog.

>We only get a few good snows every winter so snow cover is not a factor in orchard habitat.

I do not plow the orchard, but I try to keep the access road clear. Makes getting there with snowshoes for winter maintenance that much easier. I figured at 3K plus elevation, you could factor in a tool that would eliminate any driveway plowing costs; although at 3 grand for a plow attachment, that might be a hard sell to any other participants in your madness.
Re: Tractor sizing
December 20, 2016 08:02AM
Ethan , I started off at Hillview with a massy fergusson 135 diesel . Two wheel drive . Because of the steepness of the place we put 18.4 x16.1 tires on the back filled with calcium . Little bugger could damn near climb trees . But she could also get me stuck in simple places and when your by yourself thats a challenge . So like you I went for a 4x4 , Kubota L4400 .

I was told that I could do the same thing wih the tires make it more stable but that wasn't the case . Power wise she strong enough to do all that I want ( 45 hp) but on my slope she's tippy as hell , especially with a load on the front . She can lift that bin of apples but to sharp a turn will lift wheels and I have rolled her once already . Not an experience that I recommend trying smiling smiley We turned the wheels inside out to give her a wider stance and it did help a bit . Not sure how much bigger I would have had to go for stability but then it wouldn't fit under the trees , we run 15 x15 ft spacing .

If anyone is using a trailer behind the tractor concider putting in a hand operated brake actuator for trailer brakes . Its a little easier on the heart .
Re: Tractor sizing
December 21, 2016 06:16PM
Good info,

Lets dig into the mower question some more. This might warrant a separate thread. I get that bush hogs are all purpose and heavy duty. I also think a sickle mower would be a good option early in the season for laying long grass down for a mulching effect. Flail mowers are have a internal drum that spin many (20-50?) small y shaped blades. It seems this would be a great tool for general orchard mowing (cleaner than a bush hog), but would really shine for fall clean-up. Specifically, it would chop fallen apples leaves better than anything except maybe a finish mower, thus helping reduce scab, as well as finely chopping grass to cut down on vole habitat and chopping healthy prunings left in the isle ways. Can anyone that runs one vouch on that? Also, I did a little research to answer my question; flail mowers need a little more HP but not excessively so, due to the number of blades and more complex machine, you could expect more maintenance. So the question is are the orchard benefits worth running one of these guys over a brush hog or finish mower?

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 01/02/2017 03:21PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Tractor sizing
February 09, 2017 09:19PM
I own 3 orchard tractor :

One 75 hp FIAT 4 x 4 (my main spraying tractor for years)
One 55 hp New Holland (2WD chores tractor)
One 85 Kubota M8540 Narrow. (the new kid in town)

The 55 NH does all the mowing but is challenge a bit with heavy jobs with the shredder (I have a Votex and a Kuhn). Also, you need counterweight in Front. Drop that clutch a little fast and you will the tractor pop a wheelie. Good choice of transmission ratio for all jobs 16 speeds

The Fiat is strong, durable, tough as nail with the exception of all things electrical. Also noisy as hell. It has a Alo loader that I hate : autolevelling is more a pain in the lower back that anything elsewhen trying to pick up apple bins. And you can't use both function of the loader together.

The Kubota is a lot newer (altough I bought it used with only 200 hours on it). The cab is very quiet roomy (no middle bump); engine is powerful; Transmission is very limited (8 speed). The roof is cheap thin plastic and will break apart if you hit a low brach (ask how I know). The hydraulic shuttle is a God sent if you plan to use a loader a lot. The front axle makes the wheels turn faster in sharp turns and that works well. The ride is harsh because it does not have radials.

The 50 HP tractors are borderline in my opinion. You quickly run out of power or weight. Ballast in rear tires makes a huge difference. Loader wise, make sure you like the geometry of your loader. The Alo does not roll back enought to pick up rock with a rock bucket. Look at loaders on backhoe to see the difference. I don't know why we can't have the same geometry on farm tractor...

Last but not least, I also own a compact Komatsu track excavator (old but strong). Don't bother with the backhoe on a tractor. They are too short, too weak, and in the worst case scenario, can break your transmission casing in half. Farm out that work....

Keep us informed! smiling smiley

7 acres in Oka (Québec)
Certified Organic Orchard
Sunrise, MacIntoch, Spartan, Cortland, Empire,
Re: Tractor sizing
February 10, 2017 04:04AM
Why the high horsepower on your spray tractor?

If you were to stock your tractor shed now with what is currently available (new and used), how many would you have and what would they be? Assume farm revenue must pay for the tractors.

Roan Highlands Farm 6b, Roan Mountain, TN elevation: 3200 ft.
Re: Tractor sizing
March 23, 2018 05:27PM
I'm in the same boat. I'm looking to purchase a tractor for a 3+ acre apple orchard with plans for an additional 2-3 acres in berry bushes and additional fruit trees. My orchard is pretty steep in places and is a rehab orchard 10 years untended (so lots of brush to come).. I've searched on craigslist for tractors for about 6 months now, not finding much suitable or for a reasonable price. Right now, I'm considering a new Kubota MX5200 or MX5800 4WD. My plans are eventually to run a flail mower with hydraulic offset, root grapples, bucket, fertilizer spreader, sprayer.

I'd like to go with something smaller/cheaper but based on this, I don't know if I can or should.

Any suggestions welcome.

The Farm at 84, Jericho, VT
Newbie smiling smiley
Re: Tractor sizing
March 23, 2018 07:27PM
Bonnie , I have the Kubota L4400 ( 45 HP ) It seems to have all the power I need . If your place is as steep as mine my concern would be stability . I haven't been able to find wider lower profile tires that I would like so have made a rear counter balance that does help . For the balance I've made a set of short forks ( 3pt hitch ) cut a strong pallet in half , 42" wide x 24" long put some sides on her and fill it up with a set of tractor chains or a number of old batteries . No tipping issues if I have the mower or the backhoe on ( but still very careful smiling smiley )


Hillview Heritage Farm
Zone 5*in British Columbia
Re: Tractor sizing
March 25, 2018 05:05AM
Having sufficient horse power is rarely a concern with the 40-70hp class tractors, especially with a 4x4 model.

I sharpened my pencil and opted for a Kubota L3430 (29.5hp at the PTO) 4x4 unit when my need arose and it has worked well for me with hills, heavier loads (I have a heavy duity front end loader), flail mowing with my FALC 1600 and more. If you can get a good purchase price on a 40+ HP unit, it is well wroth considering . . . but if you are thinking you are going to be buying a new (or harvest return unit) just dont go lower than 30HP (or 29.5 as I have done) and I think you will be fine.

Francis has a nice team of tractors and plenty of horsepower to do his work! I like it!

Lastly, I did add liquid balast to my rear tires and that has helped with stability, but no matter how you slice it . . . going up and down hills in a tractor will get each of us pucking up like little else in our day to day in the orchard :-)

I bought my tractor in 2005 and I used a tractor forum in cojunction with my resaearch that really helped


Good luck!

Gopher Hill Apples
Zone 8 in California
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