For years, while working in a major Midwest city and its suburbs we dreamed of living a simpler, more wholesome life. The vision for some members of our family always seemed to include a homestead built in the middle of 100 acres of woods. The plan included harvesting timber and building a log home, shop, and barn. All powers with solar and wind. The ideal piece of land would have a spring and / or creek that flows year-round to provide fresh water and hydroelectric power. A 3-to-5-acre lake would provide for recreation and raising fish. The areas logged for construction of buildings and the lake would become fields for hay and pasture for miniature livestock. Of course, a log chicken coop, and a dozen hens would fill out the livestock line up. Finally, there would be a berry patch, a large garden, and an orchard.
In the summer of 2011, the dream began to materialize when our good fortune permitted the purchase of 20 acres of river bottom land, most of which does not flood. The property included a nice conventional home and shop. There is no timber, save for overgrown fence rows on two borders. And no lake. But, there was a 1/3 acre pond stocked with Bass, Bluegill and Channel Catfish. Not a bad substitute!
Our first improvement was building a barn. Using a prefabricated 12’x24’ building with a loft that we already owned. After leveling the ideal spot for the barn, the building was moved into place and anchored with earth auger anchors. Then a 12-foot lean-to addition was built on one side and one end. The result was a nice-looking, very functional barn with a 12/24 closed section for storing hay, feed and tach and a 12’x36’ and 12’x12’ area for livestock.
Next came the building of a 1-acre and 2-acre paddock. The fences were built with steel T-post and 4-wire electric fence. Driving T posts in a river bottom field in the wet spring is easy work! Then we were ready for a pony for the kids and a horse for ourselves. Fodder for a later story!
The next spring, 2013, came the 40’x80’ garden, a blackberry patch, nine grape vines and 24 nut and fruit tree orchard.
Of course, the grounds required maintenance. The first purchase was a zero-turn Simplicity Citation mower and a Stihl weed trimmer. Next came the need for hay. The previous owner of our property allowed a neighbor to harvest the hay on the 16 acres of field as they had no livestock. For the fist year or two we allow the hay harvest arrangement to continue for 1/3 of the yield. This yielded plenty for our horse and pony.
And who can live on 20 acres and not need (want) a tractor? Not us! The search began and soon we had a 70ish era 65 horse power David-Bradley diesel with a trip-bucket loader and an old 5 foot Massey Ferguson brush hog. The price was $4,000. The tractor was OK, but the trip-bucket wasn’t. We are still using the brush hog. A backhoe seemed like it would be useful on the homestead and a loader with a hydraulically operated bucket was a must. An early 60’s model International 2400 series tractor with loader and backhoe appeared to be the solution. The loader and backhoe were adapted to a farm tractor wit 3 pt hitch and PTO. The idea was to use the tractor as a farm tractor and attach / remove the backhoe as needed. What a learning opportunity! It is not easy to remove a subframe mounted backhoe, it is not designed as “quick-attach” and even harder to reinstall it. After more than a thousand dollars in repairs the tractor was sold, in favor of purchasing a tractor to work with, rather than on.
Not everyone that homesteads continues to work at their “day job”. But I did, which allowed us to “ bite the bullet” and we bought a 2016 Mahindra 1526. What a relief. It started every time and met most of the needs on the homestead. When a backhoe was needed, one was rented from the local equipment rental store.
Back to the hay. Our equine population grew from two to five. We adopted a miniature Siberian donkey in need of a good home and purchased two more horses. Now, we needed more hay. The solution was to have a custom hay baler bale our hay. They provided the fertilizer and cut and baled the hay on “halves”. This provided enough hay to meet our needs and worked well until our small acreage continued to migrate to the end of the custom balers To Do List. Two years in a row, our hay harvest was put off into July when the hay was practically burned up and of poor food value. At that point, the decision was made to bale our own hay. We found a 1969 John Deere gas tractor, a very nice John Deere 330 4’x4’ round, string-tie baler, and a not so good looking, but mechanically sound New Holland 256 hay rake for $12,500. We also needed some small square bales and purchased a decent John Deere 24T baler for $850 plus $150 freight. After $1,500 dollars in parts and service, we had a good, dependable square baler. We have been baling our own hay since then. The flexibility, independence and sense of accomplishment made the concept a winner in our minds and could have been cost effective, or nearly so. And, we are always first on the To Do List! However, as things usually go, at least one piece of the old equipment broke down nearly every time we made hay. The solution, a larger, newer tractor with enough horsepower to turn the JD 330 round baler. Well guess what, it turned out to be a lemon and after $6,000 of repairs and addition of 3rd function, we sold the tractor. Thanks to the effects of Covid on the supply chain, we nearly recuperated our loss.
Each and every time the acquisition of a tractor and/or piece of equipment was contemplated, the two wheel walking (walk-behind) tractors and miniature hay making attachments and a subcompact tractor and miniature hay making attachments were considered. The appeal was magnetic, but the cost seemed to be too high. The moral of this story? Had I stuck with the compact tractor and miniature hay making implements or a two-wheel walk-behind with hay making attachments, or even both, we would have been money ahead and enjoyed our hay making a great deal more. Our experience led us to want to share the concept of miniature farm equipment with our fellow hobby farmers and homesteaders. In fact, anyone that cares for a small to medium sized tract of land, be it a large lot, an estate, a sports park, arena, City, School, or professional land care managers can benefit from using this type of equipment.