When purchasing horse ranch farm tractor equipment, figure on trading money for time. The more you can spend, the bigger tractor equipment you can get and the less time you spend using the stuff. But, conversely, the tighter your budget, the smaller the tractor equipment and the more hours you're going to be out there working. Of course, you can also go too big or too small and get yourself into trouble. The trick is to be realistic about what you need.
We're going to stick with recommendations for equipment suited to small farms, those consisting of 20 acres or less. Larger farms need more powerful equipment - the type that could be too large to use comfortably around a smaller facility. A 20-foot mower can make short work of grass cutting if your 12-acre farm is one big field. But if your lot is divided into several tiny paddocks, you'll find it takes longer to maneuver the mower through gates and around corners than to actually cut the field.
The other problem that comes with a batwing 20-foot mower is that you must own a tractor powerful enough to run it. Even a small 10-foot mower requires a 60-70 horsepower tractor, putting you over $20,000 just for the tractor alone.
In fact, we advise you to start your purchasing decisions with your tractor. You've got to have one, so figure on spending about half your budget on the tractor and then purchase the attachments you need that your tractor can comfortably handle. (You may also be able to rent some attachments if you have a dealer nearby that does that.)
Don't be tempted to constantly push your tractor to its limit. If the implement dealer says your 40 horsepower tractor is the minimum power needed to pull the mower/cutter he's selling, we'd drop down a size on the mower to ensure we don't overtax our tractor. Otherwise, you'll eventually end up with premature repair bills. Get a tractor with the maximum horsepower you can afford, and try to go for four-wheel drive.
When choosing a tractor's physical size, be sure to factor in weather and the basic farm setup. A lawn tractor may not be suited to spreading manure in a snowy climate. And a large, dual-wheel tractor will be awkward in tight areas, like between paddocks or driving down a narrow center-aisle barn.
Measure the areas where you're going to be driving the tractor and determine what size vehicle - width, length and height - will fit comfortably. Consider barns, gates, fields, crosswalks and so on. In addition to horsepower, consider fuel type (gas or diesel) and whether you'll need a power takeoff (PTO) front and/or back.
All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) will pull implements, push snow and haul stuff around the farms. You can even get manure spreaders that will work with them. They're fairly easy to drive - fun, even - and simple to maneuver. However, they're smaller and less powerful and versatile than tractors. They also carry one person at a time and won't cart as much directly on the actual vehicle, compared to even a utility vehicle. If you've got a tight budget and little farm, the ATV might work for you.
A utility vehicle is a popular choice, somewhere between a tractor and an ATV. It generally seats two people and has a large open area in the back for hauling things and doing a few jobs not suited to a tractor. It lacks a tractor's power, but it's more versatile than an ATV and will pull carts, etc.
We've known people who "pony" or lead their horses from their utility vehicles, to condition them or just move them from one field to another. That requires good training first, though.
A small, one-man vehicle with a front-end loader is extremely easy to maneuver, especially in tight places. They're excellent for landscaping, moving dirt and rock and loading manure. Powerful little things though they are, they're not the ideal choice for pulling a mower or manure spreader, as they're slow. But they'll get the job done.
Some tiny farms do use a lawn tractor instead of a large tractor, but you're going to be limited in what it can accomplish and where it can go. Deep mud and snow will usually stop it in its tracks, and you will definitely spend many more hours on chores.
Obviously, you need to handle manure. While composting is an alternative, it's fairly labor intensive, especially if you have several horses. Paying to have the manure hauled away is expensive, if you can even find someone to do it, and simply piling it up just isn't a wise alternative. Manure spreaders are horse-farm necessities, and you can find one that fits whatever size tractor or ATV you've purchased.
A front-end loader is handy for hauling bales of hay, moving gravel/dirt, loading manure and even snow removal. Basically, anything that needs to be moved and will fit in the bucket can be done by a good driver with a front-end loader. It won't dig into the ground, like a back hoe, but it can smooth out rough terrain. However, you'll find enough uses for it that we recommend you at least put it on your "wish list."
A basic cart for hauling hay, shavings, fencing equipment and so on around the farm could be a lifesaver at times, especially if you opted not to use a Gator. It can be dangerous to haul anything on a tractor or ATV that doesn't fit on it properly. These items belong in a cart. At the price range for most carts, it's something we'd consider affordable (comparatively, anyway). You don't have to splurge on the dump cart or extra-large cart.
Grass and Field Maintenance
If you've got 10 horses in a 12-acre field, you probably don't need much in the way of grass mowing. The horses will gladly take up the chore. However, if you've got one horse in that 12-acre field, by July the grass will be shoulder-high and needs to be cut.
You can purchase standard five-foot pull-behind mowers that aren't complicated or speedy, but will get the job done. If you want to spend a little less time mowing, go for the 10-foot cutter. But be sure your tractor can handle it. Check the width of your gates before purchase to be sure they can handle the mower's size.
Of course, lawn tractors and push mowers also cut grass, but it's far more time-consuming to use these. Again, budget factors heavily here. Most farms will want both a 10-foot mower for the tractor and a lawn mower for smaller areas, such as near the barn and the house yard.
A weed cutter is a necessity because fences must be maintained. Nothing destroys a fence as quickly as grass allowed to grow uncut for several years. You may eventually even have small trees growing on the fence line pulling down your fence.
While you may find the occasional need for a chain saw, depending upon your property and the location of wooded areas, if you're not experienced with using one, we recommend you hire someone instead.
Regardless of how many horses you have on your property, you're likely to need some type of drag that will break up manure piles in the pastures/paddocks and maintain the footing in your riding arena. You will find that a flexible-tine drag is well-suited to this double duty.
These drags look somewhat like a mesh fence with tines that you pull along the ground. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to use and require virtually no maintenance. These drags work effectively over grass and dirt or sand surfaces and can be purchased in nearly any size to suit the towing vehicle.
No matter how hard you try, there's always going to be something you wish you had when the need arises.
Back-up power from a generator is mostly a concern for breeding farms during foaling season, but they can be heaven if the power is out for prolonged times. Steam cleaners and power washers are good for disinfecting stalls but again are something only a breeding farm or busy boarding stable might want to have on hand. These items are probably more economically rented items for most farms.
Snow-removal equipment is wonderful to have in Northern climates, but you can generally find someone willing to negotiate a plowing contract with you. If you have a lot of walkways, a snow blower will save your back hours of shoveling.
Furnishing your farm with the right equipment is a game of weighing need vs. budget constraints. Scrimping on a cheap piece of machinery might backfire in the long run, so use our chart to help you prioritize your needs. Start with the tractor or a tractor-type vehicle. That will determine what you can and can't purchase, both size- and task-wise. If your tractor choice causes you to eliminate a needed piece of equipment, however, you're going to have to upgrade the tractor choice.
After you have a preliminary list, go to at least three different farm equipment dealers in your area. (We recommend a 50-mile radius maximum.) Be sure the dealer is also willing to service the equipment you purchase because, unless you're especially mechanical, you're eventually going to need at least preventive maintenance.
Be sure you honestly tell the dealer the size of your farm, terrain and number of horses on the property. Most are well-informed and able to discuss what size equipment best suits you and your budget. Be aware that many of these dealers take trade-ins, so don't hesitate to consider used equipment. Ask about warranties on used equipment and get it in writing at the time of your purchase.
Finally, be aware that nearly all farm equipment has some room for negotiation. It pays to compare prices, even if you're comparing one brand to another. Use the specs on the equipment for comparison (sizes, horsepower, PTO, available implements) to determine what's best for your money.