Understand Tractor Options, Features

Looking for a tractor to make short work of barn chores? Sometimes the features and options can be confusing. Read on for some lessons in tractor vocabulary.
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Looking for a tractor to make short work of barn chores? Sometimes the features and options can be confusing. Read on for some lessons in tractor vocabulary.

In the June 2004 issue of Horse & Rider, we took a look at some of the handy implements available--from manure spreaders to harrows. If you're looking for a tractor to go along with those implements, you'll want to familiarize yourself with some of the standard--and not-so-standard--features available.

Looking for just the right tractor to take care of those farm chores? Read on for tips on tractor features and options. | Photo by Darrell Dodds

Looking for just the right tractor to take care of those farm chores? Read on for tips on tractor features and options. | Photo by Darrell Dodds

Some Standards
Agricultural tires. An R1 agricultural bar tread (highly raised bars running diagonally from the tire's inside edge to its outside edge) comes standard on many compact tractors. It's designed for good traction in sand, dirt and mud. Some models come with R4 industrial tread, which features wider bars with shallower channels between than the R1, making it less aggressive.

Diesel engine. More powerful and fuel efficient than gas engines, diesel engines generate a lot of torque (which refers to an engine's strength and ability to pull or work against force) and are extremely durable.

Drawbar. This is the hitch that connects directly to the tractor's chassis (its frame or body) and is most often used to pull a cart or wagon.

Gear transmission. This is like a car's manual transmission in that you'll need to shift the gears yourself. The numbers preceding the transmission type tell you how many forward and reverse gears the tractor offers. For example, "12 x 12" means the tractor offers 12 forward and 12 reverse gears.

Power steering. This is just like the silky-smooth, feather-touch steering you find in cars.

Power take-off (PTO). This rotating shaft powers mechanized attachments while the tractor is at a standstill. It's driven by the engine and mounted underneath or at the rear of the tractor.

Three-point hitch. A category 1 three-point hitch features a triangle-shaped hydraulic system to which you'll hook your attachments. (Category 1 refers to the 7/8-inch size pin that mounts implements to tractors with less than 50 horsepower.) The two side arms, called the draft links, do most of the pulling and lifting, and the top arm, called the center link, controls the implement's angle. This hitch is designed to lift your attachment off the ground--important for clearance when making tight turns--and to prevent the implement from damaging ground surfaces.

Built-Ins
Here's a list of built-in features available when you buy your trailer (you can't add them on later), along with about what you can expect to pay for each one.

Four wheel drive. A tractor's rear axle is its main source of power. In a four-wheel drive model, you'll be able to engage the front axle with a turn of a lever or knob--a big plus for such horse chores as moving dirt or manure across muddy surfaces or mowing in rough terrain. Average cost: $2,000.

Front-end loader. This deep, tractor-width bucket with powerful arms mounts on the tractor's front end. With it you'll be able to move hay bales, manure, and nearly anything else in a snap. Average cost: $3,500.

Hydrostatic transmission. This feature shifts gears without manual adjustment. It's best for tasks that require constant speed and direction changes in a small area. Average cost: $2,000.

Bells & Whistles
Accessorize with these handy attachments depending on your needs and budget.

Box scraper. Scrape pens, level driveways, move light snow, etc. Average cost: $1,000.

Cart or wagon. Helps your tractor perform duties that your pickup would otherwise do, such as hauling anything from bags of shavings to potted plants. Average cost: $500.

Chain harrow. Used to drag your arena footing to keep it smooth and level. Average cost: $600.

Mower. You'll use this attachment to clear weeds from your property and mow pasture grass. Average cost: $1,200.

Posthole digger. Great for construction, planting trees and establishing fence lines. Average cost: $1,000.

Snow blower. Used in conjunction with a front-end loader to clear a path through heavy snow. Average cost: $2,500.

For more information, see Horse & Rider, May 2003, "How Much Tractor Can You Afford?"