Utility Vehicles for Horse Ranches

UVs are easy to drive, maneuverable and peppier than a golf cart. Most have loads of options and accessories that make them capable of most farm tasks. They're versatile and affordable, starting at about one-third the cost of most compact tractors. On many farms, they operate as the transport vehicle, while on others they're the centerpiece. It all depends upon what you need this handy little worker to do.

It might be called a crossbred, the combination of an all-terrain vehicle and a tractor. Some may even call it a golf-cart spin-off. However it came to be, the utility vehicle-or UV-is definitely a big hit for small horse farms.

UVs are easy to drive, maneuverable and peppier than a golf cart. Most have loads of options and accessories that make them capable of most farm tasks. They’re versatile and affordable, starting at about one-third the cost of most compact tractors. On many farms, they operate as the “transport” vehicle, while on others they’re the centerpiece. It all depends upon what you need this handy little worker to do.

Right-Size Your Farm Vehicle
• Take stock of what jobs you need a farm vehicle to do before deciding on a utility vehicle.

• Gas-powered UVs are simple to operate and less expensive, but consider diesel if you will often work at maximum capacity.

• You can’t have too much horsepower, so get the most you can afford.

• Four-wheel drive is handy for going over fields and staying out of ruts.

• Look for a 1,200-pound minimum payload capacity, which includes what you’re towing, what you’re hauling on the vehicle, and passenger weight.

Job Description
Be sure you know what you need your UV to do before you buy one. A UV is easy to drive, especially over rougher terrain and in smaller areas. While all UVs are built to give you optimal traction, the Polaris Ranger and the Toro Twister seem to have superior suspension systems to help give you a more comfortable ride and keep all four wheels safely on the ground. While UVs will take up less room in your storage building, you do give up the awesome power of a full-size tractor and its seemingly unending list of available implements.

Unfortunately, no matter which way you look at it, UVs don’t have the work capacity of an actual farm tractor. They are not meant to be the main workhorse on a large horse farm. You can’t easily pull that 20-foot batwing brush cutter you need to mow your 100-acre pasture with a UV. And, while a UV will operate a small 20-cubic-foot manure spreader, you’ll want a tractor if your spreader capacity is 50 cubic feet or more-this means 10-plus horses.

The UV seems to have been made for the smaller, hobby-horse farm. It can go just about anywhere an ATV can go, and it’ll come close to an ATV’s zip. It also out-hauls an ATV, with a load capacity of 900 pounds or more and a larger cargo. In addition, most UVs carry two people safely. (Some models are made to carry four people, but it reduces your load capacity.)

UVs also out-do tractors when it comes to hauling things right on the vehicle. For instance, you can’t safely haul hay on a tractor without a loader, unless you hitch up a utility cart.

Be careful when shopping that you actually look at utility vehicles or “cargo all-terrain vehicles.” For this story, we’re looking at utility vehicles with higher load capacity and a steering wheel (as compared to a motorcycle handlebar). These are the work vehicles. While Arctic Cat and Suzuki make sporty, fun ATVs, these models aren’t meant to do the job of the Bobcat Toolcat or Polaris Ranger Taskmaster.

Before you head to the dealer, make a checklist of what you need to do around your farm and compare that to the UV manufacturer’s capacity/specifications sheet. A UV front-end loader might move your winter manure pile into your spreader with ease, but it may find moving gravel to your driveway a bit of a chore.

In general, assume the manufacturer is listing the absolute top capacities on its specifications sheet. If the payload is listed as 800 pounds, and you know you’re routinely going to carry a larger payload, get a stronger vehicle. Staying below your UV’s listed capacity is more than an issue for its longevity; it’s also dangerous to overload it.

Basic Farm Implements
• Snow blade

• Mower

• Trailer

• Front Loader

• Post-hole digger

• Rear digger

Speed is irrelevant. Most UVs list their average top speed at 20-25 mph. Some boast speeds of 40 mph, but, honestly, do you need to travel 40 mph through the field on your farm? Zipping through at 20 mph is plenty for most farm work.

We did find the Polaris SpeedKey interesting, however, as it allows you to select one of two keys to match the power/speed needed. By giving your kid the “yellow” key, you’d ensure he can’t travel over 25 mph. The “black” key allows maximum speed of 41 mph.

Fuel: For most of us, a gas-powered, air-cooled engine will do the trick. These engines are simple to operate, less expensive, have easily available fuel, and get the job done just fine. We would be sure the fuel-tank capacity is adequate, however, and prefer tanks that hold at least 5 gallons of fuel, like the Yamaha ProHaulers and the Kawasaki Mules, to minimize wasting time on fill-ups and running out of fuel.

Consider a diesel engine if you expect to be working at maximum capacity a majority of the time. The diesel offers more torque (think of this as “strength”) compared to most gas models and will take a bit more abuse. It does cost more, however, and requires more attention to handling and maintenance. Diesel engines are usually liquid cooled.

Overall, we’re not keen on electric/battery-powered vehicles-at least not yet. While we’re told that a fully powered UV should run a day on one charge, we’re not convinced. And we hate to have yet one more thing to remember to do when the day is over (plug in the charger). For now, we’re going to stick to gas and diesel.

Horsepower: This one’s a no-brainer-get the most horsepower you can afford. This is not the place to make compromises. You simply can’t have “too much” horsepower. (Okay, an 8,000-HP engine made for a top-fuel dragster might be a bit much, but you get the picture.) The last thing you want to do is to try to pull a heavy cart out of a muddy field and find you lack the strength. Look for at least 16 HP.

You need to consider your implements and accessories when it comes to HP. If you already own some implements, like a manure spreader, check with the manufacturer to find out the required HP of the towing vehicle to be sure you purchase a UV that meets or exceeds the requirements. If you plan to purchase implements, find out what requirements they have and be certain the UV you buy is strong enough before you put down any money.

4 x 4 or 2 x 4?
We recommend a vehicle capable of four-wheel drive. A few six-wheel drive models are available, such as from John Deere and Polaris, but for the most part, we think the standard four-wheel is adequate. This is a working vehicle that is destined for fieldwork, we think a standard 2 x 4 might leave you in a rut at times, and it’s not worth the frustration.

Most UVs have an option to turn on the four-wheel drive anyway (“on demand”), which means for the most part it operates in two-wheel drive until you need it. Four-wheel drives can be rough on wet turf.

We also like the option of an automatic four-wheel drive. The Club Car and Bobcat IntelliTrack Drive System provide power to all four wheels as needed without driver intervention. Basically, these vehicles do the thinking for you, just like some of the SUVs you see on the road.

Turning Radius
The turning radius can be a concern if you’re going to be maneuvering in tight areas, such as in and out of stalls, or making quick turns in small pens. Otherwise, most of these vehicles have an adequate turning radius for most farm jobs. We don’t think this is a huge concern.

Ground clearance, however, may be a different story. The Yamaha 2005 Pro Hauler 1000 has a 6.1″ ground clearance, while the Cub Cadets have a 9″ clearance. This may be a consideration if you’re frequently driving in soft ground or deep snow, which might place the bottom of the vehicle too close to the ground if the wheels sink into the soft footing, or if you’re going over rocky terrain.

Typical UV Farm Chores
• Spread small manure loads

• Haul hay/feed/cargo

• Carry passengers

• Transportation around the farm

• Dig shallow ditches/holes

• Lift small amounts of dirt, gravel, manure

• Tow utility trailers

• Plow snow

• Spray fields

• Dump dirt, gravel, manure

• Level ground

• Harrow arenas

As with horsepower, you can’t have “too much” payload. Look for a minimum capacity of 1,200 pounds. Payload includes the full load-what you’re towing, plus what you’re hauling on the vehicle, plus the weight of any passengers.

Remember that if you select a UV capable of hauling four people, you’ve immediately used up a pretty good percentage of your payload. We find few instances where we think four people will need to be transported around a farm at the same time, and we’d rather not sacrifice the cargo area. However, some models, like Kawasaki’s Mule 3010 Trans 4 x 4, can be transformed from four-passenger to two-passenger by folding down the rear bench seat, which extends the cargo area.

The Polaris 6 x 6 EFI Ranger has a payload of 1,750 pounds, but it also has six wheels. The Toro Twister 1600 is listed at 1,600 pounds. The Bobcat utility vehicles range from 1,200 to 1,500 pounds.

Suspension is more than just a comfort issue. It’s got to do with the vehicle’s stability when traveling on hills and rocky terrain. Some manufacturers, such as Polaris and Kawasaki, boast MacPherson struts. Toro’s Twister offers an Active In-Frame Suspension that allows the wheels to remain on the ground while cushioning an uneven ride and allows the cargo bed to take the shocks of the terrain independent of the front cab.

Other Options
Rollbars and seat belts are absolute musts, as far as we’re concerned. These vehicles may get off balance and roll over. Common sense driving is an absolute must. And a rollbar isn’t going to do you a lot of good if you don’t have a seat belt fastened.

We think you’re going to want a large flat-bed cargo area. This makes the vehicle handy for hauling hay, baled shavings and oversize loads. We also like the idea of removable cargo sides and a dump or tilt cargo box for easy emptying.

If you live in a rainy or snowy area, you may want to invest in a covered cab to protect you from the elements. Windshields are not standard on these vehicles, but probably aren’t a necessity for most of us anyway, except in bad weather.

Be sure that the receiver hitch is of adequate size to accept your towing vehicles. Your horse trailer may require a 2″ receiver hitch just to be able to move it around the farm (empty of course), while a utility trailer may need a 1.5″ hitch.

You can also look for all kinds of bells and whistles, if they’re important to you, including glove boxes, cup holders, cell phone holders, bucket seats and floor mats. Headlights and taillights should be included for night driving, even though you’re just on the farm.

Utility Vehicle Shopping
After you’ve figured out which options on a utility vehicle will work best for your horse facility, it’s time to go shopping.

• Look for a dealer you think will be around for a while or, better yet, choose a brand that has multiple dealers in your area. You want to be able to get parts and service. You can order parts over the Internet, but if you’re not handy, you’re going to need someone to do the work. You may need to find a dealer willing to come on site for service and even maintenance, if you’re not inclined to do that yourself and have no way to haul the UV to a dealer.

• Ask questions about trade-ins. Some dealers will take them, while others don’t want to play around with it. Be aware that there may be room for negotiation on the sticker prices, just as with cars, trucks and horse trailers.

• Take the vehicle for a test run at the dealership. Ride in it over uneven terrain if possible to judge stability and suspension. Be sure you are comfortable behind the steering wheel and in the seat, so that you can safely drive it.

• Check that the gas and brake pedals are a correct distance from your body. You don’t want to have to inch up in your seat to hit the brake. Bobcat offers a tilt steering wheel and adjustable driver’s side seat.

• Consider safety also when looking at comfort behind the wheel. You should be able to see a full 360 degrees around you when you turn your head.

Bottom Line
UVs are a fun option. They may be the best option for you when money’s tight, if your primary farm needs include an all-terrain transportation vehicle, hauling hay/baled shavings around the farm, or you simply don’t need the strength and accompanying payments associated with a tractor.

We’d skip four-passenger options unless we absolutely needed them, and we’d be certain that the UV was capable of handling at least some basic implements, like a blade and loader in case we one day need them. Overall, we were impressed with the automatic four-wheel drive options from Bobcat, Club Car and Polaris, so we’d start our shopping at these dealerships, assuming they’re in the immediate area.

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