Clemson Extension Forestry and Wildlife

Tractors and Implements for Forest Landowners- Part 1: Tractors

As a forest landowner myself, I cannot imagine actively managing property without using the modern-day tractor. In the coming series of articles, I want to discuss the importance of tractor implements and how they can help you manage your property. But first, let’s discuss the tractor and the needs of the forest landowner. In this first installment, we will talk about the essential things a new-to-intermediate skill level tractor operator should consider when buying a tractor for forestry and wildlife work on their property.

You will want to make sure you have a vehicle and trailer capable of towing your tractor. Be sure to account for the weight of any implements you may tow as well. Photo credit: Stephen Pohlman, Clemson Extension.
You will want to make sure you have a vehicle and trailer rated for towing your tractor. Be sure to account for the weight of any implements you may tow as well. Photo credit: Stephen Pohlman, Clemson Extension.

Now I’m not going to tell you to buy green, orange, blue, or whatever in this article. But what I will recommend is that you evaluate a few major things when considering a tractor. The forest landowner needs to assess the kind of conditions they will use the tractor in predominately and be honest with oneself during this evaluation process. Consider factors like space required while driving on the property, terrain to traverse, annual task needs of the property, major tasks to accomplish. Also, consider whether the tractor will be stored on the property or have to haul it. If you are going to haul it, do you have a truck/trailer big enough to safely tow it within the limitations set by the manufacturer and the laws of South Carolina? Another major consideration is the dealer and their dealer network. Tractors require maintenance and parts; thus, you’ll want to consider dealer distance, expertise, and parts availability. Lastly, remember the old saying, ‘you get what you pay for.’ Most manufacturers have an Econoline versus their standard equipment line. Less expensive sometimes translates into less robust, and when considering a woods tractor, typically stronger is better. Once you have weighed this and maybe a few personal considerations of your own into the equation, you now have begun to narrow down your search.

First, four-wheel drive (4wd) is a must, in my opinion. Remember that a forest landowner’s tractor is not always on flat footing or perfect soil conditions, such as in farming. Safety should always be first, and you should never put yourself into an uncomfortable situation. With that said, a 4wd tractor can help with this due to the increased traction they offer. Also, a 4wd tractor can have better pulling ability due to the increased traction. Of all the many different options one can buy, this is a must to me for the forest landowner.

The tractor’s stance, or distance between the tires, both front to back and side to side, is also a significant consideration. A tractor with a larger stance will have a better footing in off-camber situations if you live in the piedmont or upstate. A larger stance will also help when traversing unlevel conditions. Keep in mind that this also means a heavier weight tractor typically, so if you have towing considerations to stay within, you must factor that. Tractor Overturn is the most common form of tractor accident, accounting for more than half of all tractor-related fatalities. You may decide to add weight to your rear tires for increased traction, be it water and antifreeze-filled tires or bolt-on wheel weights, but also keep in mind towing weight when you do these things if you will trailer your tractor.

The hydrostatic transmission does not have a clutch to change gears and just has simple forward-reverse pedals. Photo credit: Stephen Pohlman, Clemson Extension
Some landowners prefer the simplicity of the forward-reverse pedals that the hydrostatic transmission offers. Photo credit: Stephen Pohlman, Clemson Extension

Transmission selection is up to the buyer. Many buyers like a hydrostatic transmission. The simplicity of just forward-neutral-reverse makes it easy for most people to operate. Some feel that a gear-driven tractor will pull stronger due to direct gear contact versus a hydrostatic transmission pumping hydraulic fluid to make it move. Again, it’s a personal preference.  I personally like a hydrostatic transmission in 30hp & 40hp class tractors due to the amount of frontend loader work that those types of tractors do. Plus, most buyers of this size tractor are pulling 5’ and 6’ implements, respectively, without issues. This tractor and implement size is arguably the most popular size purchased for forest land management by owners.

Gear driven tractors require clutching to change gears. Photo credit: Stephen Pohlman, Clemson Extension.
Gear-driven transmissions are oftentimes found on older tractors and are often offered as a more affordable standard equipment option. Photo credit: Stephen Pohlman, Clemson Extension.

What about Horsepower (HP)? First, I have never heard anybody say they wished they had less horsepower. I’ve heard plenty of people say they wished they could pull the implement they have or a bigger implement so they can get done faster. Do note that I did not say ‘go faster.’ We will discuss this in more detail when we talk about ground contact implements in the next series. Typically, tractor HP-class is also directly related to a tractor’s stance as well. Typically, a higher HP means a bump into the next class size. Many forest landowners are happy with the 30hp-class size tractor and the usage of 5’ wide implements. The next bump up is a 40hp-class, and it allows you to get into 6’ wide implements. As you would expect, a 50hp-class starts opening possibilities, but remember that also adds an increased size that you’ll have to maneuver in the woods. Also, large implements typically significantly bump up in price.

Lastly, if you are an old-hand or a newcomer, please read and ensure you fully understand the safety sections in your owner’s manuals.  Sadly, most tractor-related accidents result in the loss of body parts and/or the loss of life. Most tractor accidents are avoidable if the operator has followed proper protocol. Beginning operators should seek advice and/or training from knowledgeable and skilled individuals. Many times, a dealership can advise a new owner on who may be locally able to help. Also, Clemson Extension does offer Farm Safety Workshops, with much of it being about tractor safety. Remember too that a properly maintained tractor is a safer tractor. Things like tire pressures, protective shields, clean steps and operator’s platform, and safety switches are just a few things on a list that can help make a safer tractor.

In the next part of this series, we will discuss ground contact implements and how they can benefit the forest landowner. These implements will include those used for wildlife food plot management and fire breaks primarily.


Stephen Pohlman, Cooperative Extension, Forestry and Wildlife Agent

This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. 

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