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JohnG

Tractor/Mower advice

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All you land owners! I need your help!

This summer my family will be moving. We’ll be on 20 acres. About 4-5 acres is open field and the rest is wooded. My wife and I have separately lived on land before, but the bulk of the fields were hay fields and someone else cut and baled it. 
As of now the idea is for us to keep the fields cut. We may put in an orchard and/or decent sized garden, but there will still be a lot of mowing to do. My 20” push mower just won’t cut it for that. I enjoy yard work, but don’t want to spend 8 hours mowing ever other weekend. 

I thought about a compact or sub-compact tractor, but choked when I saw the $10-20k price tags.

Then I thought about a ~60” zero turn, but with all the woods and other projects we want to do, I was thinking it might be useful to have a few attachment/implement options. Trailer/cart to tow stuff around in. A blade/scraper for occasionally leveling the gravel driveway and clearing or moving brush and stuff around. Possibly a tiller/cultivator for the gardening. Maybe a winch mount for dragging fallen trees out of the woods. That’s about all I can imagine needing though. 

I’m not opposed to buying used, but I really have no interest in getting something I’ll have to constantly be fixing and working on. I am comfortable around engines and mechanic work, but I don’t enjoy it anymore. Unless it gives significant savings, I’d rather buy new(er) and not have to worry about that stuff. (I’ll still do the routine and preventative maintenance.)

“Lawn Tractors” are mostly what I’ve been looking at so far. For JD it looks like you have to get up into the X500-X700 range.  Husqvarna seems to have more attachment options at a lower price point, but I don’t know anything about the reliability and quality of their current products. I saw a Kioti dealer not too far from the new location, but haven’t yet looked into their offerings.
 

What else should I be looking at? Just buy a wide mower and rent/borrow/buy other equipment when and if the need arises?
 

(I generally hate forums and online review sites, so that’s why I am asking here, the one forum I frequent)


@Tom King since I know you’ll have some input. 

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We're in a similar situation and spent the money on the compact tractor.  So far, no regrets and lots of upside.  Yes, it's a lot of money but, we've also gotten a lot of use out of the machine!

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Get the compact tractor, or fence in the 4 to 5 acres and get goats.  They will keep that area tidy.  When I was growing up a large landowner/developer I knew would bring in goats to clear grass land before development.  Wasn't a fast process, and obviously they won't help with the woods.

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Make Tom an offer on his John Deer.  It's just about all new at this point.  :)

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Do not try to keep a 4+ acre "lawn" with a tractor. I speak from experience, they are simply too slow. I suggest a zero turn radius mower, which will cover equal ground up to four times faster. I had a Yanmar compact tractor with 48' finishing mower that took more than 4 hours to mow my three acres, as mowing speed was about 3mph. A lawn tractor style mower with 42" deck took 3.5 hours, running about 5mph. My current mower, with a 60" deck, takes under 3 hrs. 

A zero turn mower with a 54" deck can do it in less than 2 hrs, running 7 to 9mph. Dixie Chopper mowers run up to 13mph mowing speed.

A tractor doesn't get to REALLY be that helpful unless it has a front end loader. Then it is worth it's weight in platinum.

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That’s good to reference info, @wtnhighlander 

I’m not looking to keep the fields as a lawn, we have some grass patches immediately around the house that will be kept that way. I’d like to keep the fields tamed just enough so our kids can still navigate them. 

The 4-5 acres is split fairly evenly between two fields. On the acre scale they are pretty flat and level, but on the square yard (Or meter for you sensible folks) there’s some little bumps and trenches, as I think would be expected from hay fields. 

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If you don't have a building to leave a tractor in while you're working on it, buy a new one. 

Find the closest dealer to you, that services farmers in the area, and buy that brand.  I see some very tempting payment prices advertised on John Deere's, sitting out in front of the dealer.   For instance, there is a 44__(sorry, don't remember the last two numbers) sitting out in front of the dealer, with a front end loader, for $199 a month-don't know any other details.

Don't be tempted to buy one of the smaller, sub-compact tractors.  I had one of those, to get me past the time while my category 2 tractor has been tied up in the shop, and I was glad to see it go.

For that sized spread, I'd recommend a 35hp category 1 tractor, and a 6' finish mower.  I don't know if there is an Agri Supply store over that way, but if there is, they have the best prices on implements.  I've bought a fair amount of stuff from the one in Petersburg.  I had one of their 6' finish mowers back when we first started building our farm, and a 35 hp MF.  About 12 years later, I bought the 70hp John Deere used, and immediately sold the little MF.

You can cut fairly tall stuff with the finish mower, but it's much faster keeping it cut, than letting it grow too tall.  You can cut shorter grass in a higher gear.

For the rough ground, build a drag to go behind the tractor.   I'm building a 12' wide one for some ground I have to put the final level on some rough ground, after using the pulverizer on it, out of 4" angle iron.  You could pull a 6' wide one.  There is a good implement manufacturer over that way, but I forget the name.  I'll find it.  Google leveling a lawn youtube, and you will see some made for pulling behind an ATV.  It works a lot better behind a tractor with loader.   You lay out some dirt/sand with the loader, and drag it down level.  It will take multiple times, over multiple seasons, because the filled in sections will take some time to level.  The smoother you get the ground, the faster you can keep it cut.  If the ground is too rough for this, to start with, it will need heavier equipment to level it all out.  I bought a tractor tiller from Agri-Supply, and did a couple of miles of our cross country course with it.  

You may want a box blade, depending on how much dirt shaping you have to do, but that's why I got rid of the small tractor, and bought the category 2.  The 35hp would get to a place where the box blade would stop the tractor, and then you'd have to lift the blade, leaving a hump to have to deal with.   The 70 hp is just come on, let's go, and will boil dirt over the box without stopping.  Humps are hard to get rid of, if the tractor is not strong enough to drag it right down.

4 or 5 acres might sound like a lot, to someone living on a half acre, but it's really not that much.  We have a two acre smooth field, out in front of the house, that I cut with the riding mower, and it doesn't take that long at full speed-I think about 45 minutes.  You will need a smaller mower, in addition to the tractor.  I have a 48" Husqvarna from Lowes, that should be good for 6 or 7 hundred hours, for trimming.  I was planning to get a 72" Ferris this Spring, but we will not get at least 50k income that we were hoping for by renting a lake house this Summer, that is not going to happen, so I'm putting off that purchase.

You will need somewhere to work on equipment, even if it's all new.   Buy a good grease gun,-Alemite off Amazon with the big handle off one side-not the one handed version, and a case of grease.  The more often you grease the tractor, the longer it will last.  Tractors depend on greased bushings, instead of a bunch of bearing, and even with grease, the bushings still wear out-see my current tractor thread.

Grass cutting blades need to be kept sharp, and you need a safe way to get them on, and off, easily.

I could write a book about building, and maintaining a spread, but this should be a good start.

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We know Winston Salem fairly well.  Both of our children graduated from the School of the Arts, and our Daughter went there for High School too.  

Let one of your first places to visit be the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, right beside Old Salem.   https://mesda.org/

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Budget allowing, I’d never finish mow with a tractor. Just don’t like it. That’s after several thousand hours doing so. I far prefer zero turn for that. I hate biannual cutting with a zero turn. It generally takes too many passes to achieve the desired finish and they often won’t cut saplings well. I’d get a zero turn, then look for a place to rent a tractor twice a year to cut the prairie/pasture. Or, if you have the budget, I’d hold both tools. Each have their place. 
 

If you opt to finish mow with a tractor, put a lot of thought into your landscaping to make working around trees etc. efficient. 

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Stihl has the FS 94 R on sale right now, for 299.  That's the first time I ever remember the good stuff being on sale. 

And I agree with a finish mower only being good for open areas.

With sharp blades, even one of these can cut an open area almost as good as a lawn mower.  This tractor is next up for in the shop, after I get the John Deere going.  I need to fix the air conditioning, and do some painting, but the painting will probably wait for another time.

 

IMG_1116.JPG

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I will toss in one more bit of "advice". If you do choose a tractor, don't be tempted to use a belly mower for "convenience" of not having to remove it while using other implements. It will interfere with many operations you might want to do, and require removal anyway. And it is really difficult to mow under trees, fence rows, etc..  With a mower on the hitch, you can back the cutter up under stuff that you and your seat can't reach. 

A lifetime ago, I worked for a small landscape company, mostly as their tractor operator. We had a John Deer 750 with front-end loader. That machine used a Yanmar 18hp diesel engine, and was a workhorse far beyond what it's size would indicate. I ran a 5' finish mower on it, with front loader in place, and mowed several commercial properties from 2 to 10 acres. IT was a great deal faster than my 15hp Yanmar tractor. The Japanese Yanmar was geared for pulling stumps, I suppose. I could put it low range, first gear, and go eat lunch before it found its way across the yard!

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I was able to find the implement manufacturer that I was talking about.   I forget where they're located, but I think it's over that way.

I have one of these, and it will be the first thing I use once I get the JD going.   https://www.everythingattachments.com/Everything-Attachments-96-Inch-Pulverizer-p/eta-yp-96-v2.htm      It's only good for bare dirt though.  You can't grade grass.  If the fields need to be leveled out, and have something growing on them, see if you can find a nearby farmer to disk it two, or three times in different directions, so you will have something that can be worked with.  With grass, about all you can do, if you don't till it in, is to topdress it, drag it, and roll it.

If you poke around on that site, you'll see all sorts of other implements.  I think it's pretty hard to beat the price, buying directly from the manufacturer.  I like their stuff too.  It costs more than what Agri Supply sells, but is much better quality.

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Here's the grease gun I'd recommend to get to start with, assuming you don't want to buy several at first.  You can get by with this one for about any fitting, but you'll probably want other types sometime in the future.

https://www.amazon.com/Alemite-Develops-Delivery-Strokes-Cartridge/dp/B009K52YIC/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=alemite+grease+gun&qid=1586390155&sr=8-4

I've never had an Alemite grease gun stop working, but have tossed others that I don't remember the brand names of.

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Whether you buy gas, or diesel, you will need to be able to feed it.   I have a 100 gallon tank, with a 12v pump that I can sit in the truck to go fill it up, but I don't need that these days, so I use 5 gallon jugs.  The nozzles that come on the ones you buy these days are just a PIA.

Buy Midwest jugs-however many you think you need.  Yellow if diesel.  I'd get at least two.  I buy them at Tractor Supply, but not sure that's the cheapest place.  Discard the nozzle that comes with it, and buy one of these:   https://www.ebay.com/itm/133365032164?ViewItem=&item=133365032164   They're much more spill proof than any of the standard ones, that are supposed to be spill proof, and they flow better anyway.  You leave the long hose in the tank, and when you see, or hear it filling up, leave the hose in, and lower the jug-no spills.

I like the Midwest jugs because they have the best design for the gasket, that you reuse with those nozzles from the seller on ebay.  The Midwest gasket fits over the outside of the machined aluminum part.  My other jugs, I already had, and had to find other seals for the nozzle, even made some, and they're still easy to lose, or get out of position.

Here are some pictures of a diesel Midwest jug.  I put two vents on my diesel jugs, and the fuel does flow out faster than with one vent.

IMG_1031.thumb.JPG.e57616dbb4015a8d2e67092086842aad.JPGIMG_1032.thumb.JPG.cff1c3e4a288669ec031a338311b9d95.JPG

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I need to add another vent to my diesel jug its a PITA the way it works now I bet that would help. I've only had the tractor for 15 years and never thought of doing that LOL  Thanks Tom!! 

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I have a bunch of them.  PM me your address, and I'll send you some.

edited to add:   Sorry,  I checked and we don't have any stamps.  I'm not going out.  You can get them off ebay pretty cheap, probably with free shipping.

edited to add:  They take some odd sized drill bit, in some number of 64ths.  I bought a brad point bit that size to make clean holes.  They are a really tight fit, as they need to be, but a little grease on the valve keeps from distorting the plastic can, as it goes in.

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2 hours ago, Tom King said:

I have a bunch of them.  PM me your address, and I'll send you some.

edited to add:   Sorry,  I checked and we don't have any stamps.  I'm not going out.  You can get them off ebay pretty cheap, probably with free shipping.

edited to add:  They take some odd sized drill bit, in some number of 64ths.  I bought a brad point bit that size to make clean holes.  They are a really tight fit, as they need to be, but a little grease on the valve keeps from distorting the plastic can, as it goes in.

NP I ordered a pack of 5 off eBay last night. Thanks again!

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A lot of good info here that I’ll keep in mind as I do more research!

I spoke with a few people I know in the area and they have had only terrible service (Sales, parts, customer service, maintenance service) from the JD dealer in the area, so I think JD is off my list. 

I’m kicking myself for giving away a nice stihl MS 025, MS 180, and BR 600 a number of years ago. Although others have gotten a lot of use out of those during the years since, when I wouldn’t have used them. I do still have a FS 110 and a BG 85.

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I'm still running an FS 110 too.  I can't remember what year I bought it, but it was the first year they made that model.  The only things I've ever done to it were preventative maintenance of adjusting the valves, and changing the crank seals.  We're also still running an FS 85 that is some years older than the 110, and still runs fine after I don't know how many hundreds of hours. 

If you end up getting a tractor, you won't need a winch.  Do cut some paths into the woods though, so you can drive the tractor in there. 

Around here, the JD service departments are pretty pitiful too.   After one dealer screwed up my reverser, I asked a different dealer about fixing it, and he very honestly told me that they didn't have anyone smart enough to work on it.   Sadly,  I don't know if any of the other brands are any better. That's why I ended up doing it myself.   It's a shame that the newer ones have gotten so much more complicated, and dependent on software. 

I guess if you end up getting a tractor, you might as well figure on working on it yourself, unless there is a good independent tractor mechanic around.  I put over 3,000 hours on mine before it needed all this work, and it was used hard when I bought it cheap over 25 years ago.  I've built our place with that tractor, and built one 1/4 mile road to state spec, that the state did take over, with it.

It would be nice if the ground was flat enough to only need a Zero turn, but I expect it will require some work.

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"Self-Service" is one reason I loved the little Yanmar tractor. No critical electical funtions aside from starting. No unnecessary accessories like A/C. All mechanical fuel system. The thing didn't even have a water pump or an alternator! It relied on convection to circulate coolant, and a simple magneto to charge the battery. Pretty much every tool needed to maintain it would fit in the on-board tool box. Simple and reliable is worth a lot.

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Tom those spouts are nice but for 5 gal jugs i still prefer the jiggle siphon. For fueling up boats we have a wagon that has 6 5 gal cans in it. We just roll it up and siphon all 6 jugs in the boat don't have to lift a thing. I suppose if your gas tank is less than 5 gallons the siphon is a bit harder to use and the can has to be above the fuel tank. Ok there are a lot of cons when the fuel tank isn't in a boat :D

Also i thought the new spouts were for vapor protection not spill protection? I agree i spill more with those awful spouts than ever evaporated out of the can with the old ones.

As i was typing this i realized that we put 30 gallons in the boat regularly and have never once filled it full... i have no idea how big the tank is. it's only a 19' alumacraft I/O so it's not like it's a big boat either.

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I put gas, and fuel in more than a few things, and not many could benefit from siphoning.  The diesel jugs are just out of view to the left of the gas cans.  They sit out of the Sun, the ones with the vents open are empty.  

So far, no gas can police have bothered me.  The people who decided that the new design was a better idea, forgot to include common sense, and may, or may not have ever used a portable gas can.

 

IMG_0900.JPG

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4 hours ago, Tom King said:

I put gas, and fuel in more than a few things, and not many could benefit from siphoning.

Yeah the more i thought about it the worse and worse it sounded for anything other than a boat. Our dock is above the rail of the boat so the can is already elevated and no lifting is required.

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Siphons aren't bad if you have a truck bed tank with no pump. It’s a good tool to have just in case. 

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