Life is different when you own a tractor, so much so I don’t really know how I would function without one. Even with the best small tractor, there are situations that call for ingenuity and specialty add-ons to turn your tractor into a rolling Swiss Army knife. Just like mechanic work, every job is easier when you have the right tools, so let’s look at a few add-ons I’ve used over the years to make my tractor into “the right tool for the job.”
If you do modify your equipment, do so at your own risk. If you are uncertain in any way, ask a local professional for input. I’m not an engineer, certified welder, or professional mechanic, nor do I know what tractor you have or what condition it’s in, so use caution when modifying equipment.
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I lift things up and put them down … with my tractor, that is. Many times I run into a situation that requires lifting something; be it a machine, a truck, equipment, logs, an engine, or what have you. Even though many best small tractors have a bucket loader, few come from the manufacturer with attachment points on the bucket for chain or rope, which is unfortunate. Of course, farmers have been modifying tools to suit their needs since the dawn of farming itself, and the lack of a hook or eyelet never stopped a farmer.
Online, at your local best small tractor dealership or even your local big box farming store, you can purchase hooks of all kinds. For a simple modification, you can buy a slip hook or a grab hook that matches the chain you have, that features a standard pin-on link. By simply drilling into the side of your bucket, you can pin these hooks onto your bucket, making this a quick and easy affair. This quick and easy method has a few pitfalls, however. Torsional force can wreak havoc on your bucket’s plate steel construction, and the link portion of the hook can deform over time. In addition, I find myself catching the hooks on things often when installing this way, which results in them being removed often and then consequently lost.
If you have the time, equipment, or the right friends, you can step up your game by buying weld-on hooks which have been designed to, you guessed it, be welded on. I for one prefer to weld these on top of the bucket, close to the edges to avoid buckling the bucket. If you want a hook at the center of your bucket, consider reinforcing the top of your bucket with C channel iron before doing so, since lifting from the center may cause a flimsy bucket to fold or collapse. If you do reinforce the bucket, I personally find having a slip hook dead center of my bucket and one grab hook on either side to be of great use to me, but that’s simply my preference.
A lot of things I move around the farm are not necessarily heavy, but they may be bulky or don’t fit in my bucket without being precariously perched. For these instances, I like to use a pair of clamp-on forks, much like a forklift. Being able to move things on pallets, take delivery of pallets from the back of an 18-wheeler, or even lift palleted items into a box truck for shipping is super handy. Logs, poles, stacks of lumber, and other lengthy items are also easily moved when you have a pair of forks available.
Now that I have forks, I leave a lot of items on pallets such as bales of shavings, chicken transport cages, extra equipment, spare parts, and all sorts of things, because it allows me to shuffle items around the farm at will. One disadvantage of using a clamp-on style fork you should be cognizant of, is leverage. Since you effectively double the distance between the arms of your tractor and the load, you have now exponentially reduced your safe working load limit. Use caution when lifting loads, since weights your tractor could safely move before may now cause your tractor to tip forward, deform your bucket where the forks are attached, or damage even the best small tractor’s loader.
Prices for clamp-on forks vary widely, but I’m very pleased with the pair I picked up on eBay for less than $200; which is a steal compared to buying a proper $1200 fork bucket. The specific pair I bought are made in the USA, but for the life of me, I can’t remember who made them. The only problem I’ve ever had with them is that I twisted the big bolt on one, had to cut it off, and then bought a new bolt through my local hardware store. Having tractor bucket attachments, like a set of forks, can make your life on the farm or homestead so much easier, which is why I highly recommend them.
In the future, I plan on building an actual fork bucket for my John Deere out of a “quick-tach” plate and used parts from a forklift. This will replace my bucket when attached, giving me a higher lift weight capacity since my load will be closer to the arms of the tractor. I’ll be sure to share that project with you if and when I finally get around to building it.
Sometimes I just have to get something done quickly. Sometimes I’m trying to beat the weather forecast, or I’m just trying to wrap up a job I really don’t want to finish tomorrow, and that usually leaves me working long after the sun has gone down. I may have headlights, but they are borderline useless when the bucket loader obstructs them, or when I need to see the implement I’m running behind me, not what’s ahead of me. You can avoid this inconvenience with about $20 and less than an hour of tinkering.
Many best small tractors have Roll Over Protective Structures (ROPS) which are meant to stop the tractor from crushing the operator in the event of a rollover, but many of these structures have pre-drilled holes from the manufacturer to accommodate different optional equipment. You can use these to mount off-road lights to your ROPS without impacting the structural integrity of these safety structures, or there’s plenty of magnetic bases and zip ties in the world if you prefer. In either case, adding a pair of cheap off-road lights from your local parts store or bargain supply shop will make your life easier when the sun goes down. You may be able to tie these into your existing switches, or you may need to add a new switch to your tractor’s dash, neither of which should be difficult. Be cognizant of how much power your lights draw since they may overpower your switch of choice. If that’s the case, consider using a relay in your new circuit to avoid an electrical fire. I plan on adding LED lights this summer to my John Deere since they draw less power and look brighter than many of the other options out there, albeit a bit more expensive, so stay tuned for a report on my misadventures.
When you’re lifting, digging, or operating on dicey terrain, adding a little down force to your tractor can make the difference between getting the job done and getting too tipsy, even for the best small tractor. Tractor tire fluid does a great job of adding ballast to your tractor, providing more weight to keep your tires touching dirt, and lowering your tractor’s center of gravity. Professionally installed options can get expensive, but with some inexpensive tools, anyone can add ballast to their tires using automotive antifreeze. It’s worth your time to research the possibilities.
If you’re lifting with your loader and you feel your rear tires lifting off the ground, grab your heaviest implement to add counterweight or consider building an actual counterweight that attaches to your 3-point hitch. We’ve made several counter weights using a 55-gallon drum, some scrap steel and a few bags of cement over the years. Even if you use off the shelf items like a 3-point tow bar, you can easily build a functional tractor counterweight for under $100. Adding a counter weight to your farm implements list will serve you well over the years, even if you use it infrequently.
These are just a few of my favorite best small tractor hacks, what’s your favorite cheap fix for your tractor’s pitfalls?