Written by: Amy Harris
Get advice on buying horse farm equipment with tried and true, cool and new features.
Depending on the size of the acreage and number of horses, some farms could get by with just a wheelbarrow and a pitch fork. But, when it comes to farm living, with its never-ending to do list and wide variety of tasks and chores, chances are you’re going to end up with a machine or two in the shed. With so many options, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and there’s always a good excuse to buy a new toy…ahem, tool, that’s why it’s important to be realistic about your current and future needs in order to make smart equipment purchases.
While equipment needs vary depending on the size and function of the facility, the most common machines on horse farms today are tractors, riding lawn mowers and utility vehicles. People with smaller facilities, who have square bales delivered and pay to have manure removed, for example, may never need a tractor. But, they might find a riding lawn mower or utility vehicle helpful in maintaining their property and tending to their horses. Alternatively, people with larger operations, where they harvest hay, feed round bales and spread manure, for example, can often benefit from all three machines.
Horse-Canada spoke to several farm owners across the country and most of them, whether seasoned veterans or newcomers to farm management, said they could not live without a tractor.
The beauty of a tractor is that with the right attachment, it can do pretty much any job around the farm, from lifting and hauling heavy loads to harrowing the field and arena to cutting grass and plowing snow. That doesn’t mean that any tractor will do for anyone; this is certainly not a matter of one size fits all.
In fact, the biggest mistake people make when buying a tractor is going too small. As a result, they can find their lower purchase price eclipsed by repair costs due to overworking the machine. Long-time property owner, Pam Mackenzie, of Brookfield, Nova Scotia, said the best purchase she ever made was a new tractor. “We didn’t know how much we needed it, instead of the old tractor (which was too small to effectively do the job), until we bought it,” she noted.
Adam Haney of Kubota Canada Ltd. commented, “Equipment need is based on applications and cause for use on the farm. That said, a 50 horsepower tractor will do most typical small to medium sized horse farms.”
Becky Howe, of Hutchinson Farm Supply, a John Deere dealership in Stouffville, ON, said a tractor with 45-55 horsepower is ideal for small acreages, whereas larger-scale operations would be better served by a tractor with 75-100 horsepower.
As with any other major purchase, it’s important to do your homework before you buy. Consider you current and future needs, prepare a wish list and ask knowledgeable people for their advice. Speak to other property and equipment owners, visit several reputable dealerships, compare prices – educate yourself on the product and its features.
Haney and Howe both agreed that ease of use is the second most important feature in a tractor, next to power.
“Horse farms typically have a lot of novice drivers or multiple drivers,” said Haney. “Like with cars or trucks, a standard gear shift can take a lot of abuse in these multiple driver situations.” As such, he said, people should consider tractors that feature the car-like operation offered by hydrostatic (HST) transmission, because these tractors “are easier to operate than those with a gear drive.”
Haney added that an “auto-stall” feature is also handy when it comes to purchasing a tractor that will have novice and/or multiple operators. “Typically, when an operator attempts to use a loader for the first time, they try to lift the entire pile. This causes the tractor to stall, and can be very hard on the tractor. The auto-stall feature stops this from happening, keeping the engine running, but reducing the oil flow, and telling the operator to adjust the load.”
Howe said that a “quick-hitch” feature makes switching implements more convenient. “This feature allows you to easily install or remove attachments, often without even leaving the seat of the tractor,” she said. “This saves time and effort, and increases versatility.”
Most brands offer a great variety of tractor implements. A loader is a must, for lifting, hauling and dumping, and a fork is helpful for moving round bales. A ring rake or harrow is also popular with horse people, and a grooming mower is great for cutting large areas of grass, whereas a rotary cutter is excellent “for rough cutting tough weeds, pastures and small saplings, helping keep paddocks cut and the farmstead neat,” according to Howe. Of course, there are many more helpful implements available, with task-specific purposes, but the average horse farm owner can usually make do with these. For one-off jobs, consider renting or borrowing the equipment, or contracting someone to do the job for you – i.e. harvesting hay, installing fencing, digging trenches.
You can purchase cutting attachments to go with your medium to full-sized tractor, which work great on large areas, but when dealing with smaller lawns or hard to get to areas, a riding lawn mower is ideal thanks to its smaller size and manoeuvrability, and some models even have four-wheel drive.
“Conventional lawn or garden tractors offer mower decks from 42” to 54” cutting widths. They have a steering wheel, hydrostatic drive and are easy to use,” said Haney, who added, however, “Their down side would be mowing time.”
“A zero-turn mower, on the other hand, (which steers using the rear wheels) offers zero-turning radius and can cut the mowing time in half with its speed, agility and performance. These can take some getting used to though, as many operators have not had experience with these types of machines in the past. Once they have adjusted, however, these are the ideal mowing machines.”
Haney suggested that during the homework phase, people “look at landscapers and city or park operators to see the brands being used and find out how well they stand up.” In general though, he said people should look for ease of use, for both steering and dealing with controls such as cut height adjustment, for example.
Rebecca Garrard, an accomplished dressage rider, trainer and coach from Langley, B.C., who bought a five-acre farm a year and a half ago, has a mid-sized tractor, but said she insisted on getting a lawn tractor too, and that now it’s one of her favourite pieces of equipment. She commented, however, “I should have gotten a bigger one, since I will probably kill this one. I use it with a trailer on the back to drive about and pick up plant trimmings and other debris on the property.”
In addition to a hitch on the back, many riding mower models feature attachments for the front such as blades and snow blowers, for example. As Garrard pointed out though, it is easy to overwork a tractor of this size if you push it beyond its capabilities.
If you’re looking for a machine to cart things around with, Howe said a utility vehicle is great for “getting around your property and carrying loads for daily or routine chores, allowing you to get more accomplished in less time and with less fatigue.”
“A utility vehicle can be an excellent choice for any size of horse farm,” said Haney. “Many are small and agile enough to manoeuvre between stalls, allowing for them to be cleaned and dumped directly into the cargo box or trailer. This reduces the amount of handling and manual work.”
He continued, “The cargo box not only carries your tools and accessories, but can be fitted with cargo racks to transport materials as well. The trailer hitch is ideal for wagons or trailers to haul fencing, jump boxes and rails, wood and other material. And, unlike ATVs, a utility vehicle also enables a passenger to sit beside the operator.”
There is a wide array of features available on utility vehicles, and so, once again, it is important to be clear on what you want the machine to do.
First and foremost, keep in mind that speed does not equal power. “There are several models of sport type UTVs on the market,” said Haney. “Doing actual utility work with these models is like asking a Corvette to pull a wagon – it just isn’t going to happen. Instead, look at the pulling ability, towing capacity and payload capacity. You are buying this machine for work, so utility should be high on the list.”
Handling is a key feature as well. If you select a model that is too big, you lose some of that manoeuvrability around the barnyard. If you buy too small, the number of ways you can use it decreases. A model with four-wheel drive is ideal for getting around uneven terrain. Howe cautioned, however, that people should look for a model with a “low centre of gravity and wide stance to avoid rollovers.”
Howe said “continuously variable transmission (CVT) – for smooth power and acceleration, with automotive-style braking” is preferable, and that four-wheel suspension is another feature which contributes to a smooth ride.
There are a variety of front and rear attachments for utility vehicles as well, from loaders and blades to snow blowers and cutters, among others. You can also modify the cargo area, request a bedliner and even an automatic dump. Research what is offered by each brand before you select a make and model, especially if there’s a particular attachment you are interested in.
Buying New vs. Used Equipment
Once you’ve done some research and decided on the type of machine you’re looking for, the question becomes whether to buy new or used. There are several factors to consider with either choice.
When you buy a new, quality brand machine from a reputable dealer, you know what you’re getting, that parts and service are available, that it comes with a warranty. And, after some price comparisons, you can be confident that you’re paying a current market value. Further, dealerships often have promotions and offer financing, which can make the sticker price more manageable.
Haney warned against buying lesser known brands, or those that are new to the market. “The price might be low, but regardless of usage and upkeep, you will need parts and service,” he said. “New manufacturers surface all the time, but the support is not there.”
He added, “Next, look to how the product is made – is the manufacturer a single source, or are there several components put together at various factories? Having an engine from one manufacturer does not always match well with a transmission built by a different company, matched with components from yet another company.”
Haney said that warranty coverage is also important to consider, but cautioned that “the extent of the coverage may be misleading, so it is important to find out the little details that could add up to hidden costs in ‘full coverage’ warranties.”
You can buy used equipment from a dealer or privately, through print and online publications and advertisements, and also at auction. Just because there are many options available, however, does not mean that you will have an easy time finding exactly what you’re looking for. Howe said she does not recommend “buying over the internet, sight unseen, from dealer outside your servicing proximity, who could be underestimating what you will want the equipment to do for you.”
One of the biggest issues about buying used, according to Haney and Howe is parts and service availability. “With older products, parts are a common concern, so it’s best to stick with a mainline product, increasing the availability of parts,” said Haney. “Service is also a key concern, as not every shop will be able to handle all makes and models.” Howe discourages people from buying machines in “as-is condition, unless you are a mechanically-inclined to fix-it-yourself.”
Pam Mackenzie said she’s been buying new the last few years due to dealer promotions, and she would be worried about “buying other people’s problems” with used equipment. Rebecca Garrard concurred, saying she got a great deal on her new tractor.
Ceci Flanagan-Snow, a property owner from Smith’s Creek, New Brunswick, is open to buying both new and used equipment. She said, “If I am buying something that is used, I need to know that it is in excellent condition, has been properly maintained, and has a decent life expectancy. If it doesn’t meet those criteria, I buy new.”
Whether buying new or used, Haney said, “price is always a strong consideration, but performance, ease of use, and general operation should be strongly considered when choosing equipment that will be used every day, all day, around your farm.”