Rightsizing a tractor

The word tractor comes from a combination of two words — traction and motor. Selecting a tractor with adequate horsepower, size and versatility can dramatically increase your productivity when managing your property for wildlife. There are many configurations of tractors, engines, drivetrains and body styles, but only strategic research will have you in the right size tractor giving you plenty of traction and motor for your land management needs.


Tractor sizes are determined by category. For instance, a category “0” is a subcompact tractor, and the category refers to the size implement the tractor can handle. Category “1” generally refers to the under-50 horsepower tractors, and category “2” would be 50-150 horsepower. In addition, the horsepower rating of the tractor comes from engine and power take off or PTO. The PTO horsepower rating of the shaft gives a truer measure of the tractor’s horsepower, and this is important when powering rotary implements like mowers and augers.

Travis Sumner, NWTF Hunting Heritage Center and habitat manager, said the size of the property, the terrain and the tasks you plan should determine the tractor size you select.

“Maintaining roads, food plots, clearings, cleaning up from logging operations and controlled burns are jobs to consider when picking a tractor,” Sumner said. “For land managers, a category “2” 50- to 55-horsepower tractor with four-wheel drive is the most popular.”

Properly match your category tractor to its correct category implement. An oversized tractor can ruin an undersized implement just as a tractor can be ruined by attempting to power an implement that is too big. It is always a good rule of thumb to select a tractor horsepower slightly larger than you think you will need, and order a few extras such as external hydraulics for future applications.


“I look for a tractor and implements that help me be productive as possible, because everything in management is time sensitive, especially planting,” Sumner said. “A properly sized tractor with implements, such as the following, will make good use of those windows of time: mower, disc harrows, spin spreaders, herbicide sprayer, front-end loader, grapple, scrape blade, and ditch mowers.”

In addition to selecting a tractor with four-wheel drive, Sumner also suggests getting a tractor with a wide wheelbase for stability on rough or steep terrain and adding water and anti-freeze or another non-freezing ballast mixture to the tires such as sodium chloride. This is an easy and inexpensive way to increase weight, stability and traction for the tractor, because the tires are the lowest part of the tractor and filling them with liquids keeps that center of gravity low. 


Make sure the tractor has adequate rollover protection and that all PTO-driven equipment is compatible and works properly. For a bigger investment, many tractor models offer cabs, which can be equipped with air conditioning and radios, but they also serve a safety purpose as protection from flying debris or insects. Horror stories abound of tractor operators running over yellow jacket or hornet nests.


Regular maintenance will have you working with your tractor instead of working on it. Diesel engines require lots of clean air and clean fuel.

“Check and change your fuel filter regularly, and check all fluid levels including oil, water, and hydraulic, as well as grease all fittings on the tractor and implements,” Sumner said. “Make sure you use a diesel additive to guard against bacteria and fungi that can grow in dyed, off-road, diesel fuel.” 

Keep in mind that a diesel requires strong cranking amps, especially when the engine is cold. Make sure the battery is fully charged. If the tractor isn’t used for extended periods, put the battery on trickle charge.

“Select a tractor that will fit your budget and get the job done in an efficient and timely manner,” Sumner said. “Consult with a highly qualified dealer and take care of your investment.” 

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