Every "real" farm needs a tractor, right? Well, that depends. A few farmers, of course, still use animal muscles as their main machines: horses, mules, and oxen still pull plows and wagons and other equipment as well as they ever did, and they have advantages. They eat grass and grain that can grow on the land, instead of consuming fossil fuels that have to be purchased with cash. And animal manure can return nutrients and energy to the soil. The muscles of animlas, and of the men and women who work with them, are limited -- and those limits are important in themselves, for they remind us that we are not sovereign or omnipotent.
But no, we did not opt to keep draft animals to work our land. Neither did we buy a tractor. Because over half The Farm is in CRP, and much of the rest is woods or drainage creeks, there is only a limited amount of land to work, so a tractor seemed like overkill. At the same time, the hills and often muddy soil dictated a machine that would handle terrain. So we got a second-hand Polaris Ranger 6x6. With it we can drag logs up out of the wooded ravines and haul tools to work on fences. It has plenty of power, and plenty (though not unlimited!) traction. What it doesn't have that a tractor would have is a PTO hook-up and hydraulics.
The Ranger gets us around and drags stuff or pulls a small trailer. But we're going to need a couple of other items, too. For one thing, we need a big rough-cut or trail mower to knock down the high weeds and grass and start clearing some trails in the woods. I'm looking at self-powered mowers with angled pull bars, so we can mow easily along fences. When it's time to burn a piece of the CRP, mowing a wide strip of firebreak might help prevent things from getting out of hand. For the same reason, we need to get a disc that we can pull with the Polaris. We'll disc or roto-till the firebreaks, and also use the disc to prepare food plots (sunflowers, millet, maybe even barley), and of course get the garden plot ready up next to the house.
It all starts to add up pretty fast! What about a post-hole auger? that would probably have to be a one or two-man hand-held, rather than a machine mounted one, because we have long stretches of fence running through the woods to build and maintain. A spreader/planter would be nice for those food-plots. Do we need a tank & sprayer to haul in the Polaris for fruit trees? And we've felt the need for a snow-plow blade several times this winter.
But we're trying to take it slow. The goal is not to have all the toys any boy could ever want, but to maintain, use, and improve this piece of land in some kind of sustainable fashion. And that means keeping costs down. Besides, the garage is already full.