Replace Those Old Ponies with the Latest PTO-Driven Tiller Implements for Compact Tractors
By Kelly Pickerel Aug 10, 2012
The demands of large property have always required horsepower. A hundred years ago, tall and stout draft horses could be seen on the farm, hauling heavy loads, plowing fields and pulling various implements. Today the workhorses of yore have been replaced by the horsepower of a utility tractor, equipped to run a variety of implements that can dig, carry, cut and work longer and harder than any equine alternative.
The iconic image of a horse-drawn tilling operation on the farm has now been nicely replaced with the reality of a PTO-operated tiller attachment, which is quite literally a groundbreaking implement. PTO-driven, rear-mounted tiller implements on tractors are handy tools for landscapers, homeowners with acreage, farmers and others who need to prepare soil for planting, amend earth with fertilizer, manure or mulch and remove weeds between tree rows. When considering tillers for compact tractors (those units 50 PTO horsepower or below), most tiller attachments are used for preparing large gardens, says CEAttachments product manager Ron Peters. Some landscapers may use them for work around homes too, but gardens are one of the most popular worksites for this earth eater.
“The attachment is generally used for bigger jobs, not a small little garden or anything,” Peters says. “Bigger gardens would use them. Small hobby farmers would use them. It’s generally used to till up the soil and get it ready for seeding to put in a garden or if they’re planting a wide range of different items. Some landscapers would use them for working up soil around people’s houses or flower beds to get it ready for seeding.”
Determining which size and style tiller is the right fit for a compact tractor comes down to two things, says Everything Attachments’ sales manager Rick Rinehard — the gearbox size and the width of the tiller. “If you have a tractor with hp PTO in the 45 to 50 range, you’d have to have a tiller with the larger gearbox to be able to handle that horsepower and not damage it,” Rinehard says. When considering width, it’s best to have a tiller size that covers the width of the track, creating a more complete finish and reducing the need for more than one pass to complete the work.
As for depth, Rinehard says the tillers that Everything Attachments sells usually have a maximum dig depth of 7 to 8 in. He says an adjustable “sled runner” on the side controls the depth, allowing for the tines to go deeper. The tailgate also helps to give a finer texture when left down, because it will contain the material longer and allow the tines to work it more. If the tailgate is up, the material will discharge before it becomes fine.
Another consideration should be the type of drive. Tiller implements are driven by a chain or a gear. Both work well in rugged conditions. Chain models are great for occasional use. For example, a property owner who wants to till their garden a couple times per year. But if someone is looking to use a tiller in high-hour applications, such as a landscaper preparing seedbeds on a regular basis, it would be better to have a gear-driven tiller. Those high-hour applications also will require careful consideration of the blades.
Tiller attachments have evolved over the years adding more blades and bolting options.
“The old tillers used to have four blades per rotor. Now the majority of tillers have six tiller tines per rotor,” Rinehard says. “It gives it more of a rounded, more of a smoothing effect. It would be 50 percent better tine-wear because you have 50 percent more tine in contact all the time.”
Tillers are fit with either a slip clutch or a shear bolt, with the slip clutch being the slightly more expensive but more practical choice for heavy users.
“The slip clutch is in the back half of the PTO shaft before it gets to the gearbox,” Rinehard says. “If you hit a rock or a stick, it locks that tiller. That slip clutch will start slipping, and you’ll notice it immediately and be able to get your clutch in, get it out of gear and get the PTO disengaged so you can unlock whatever is in the tines and not cause damage to your tractor PTO or your gearbox.”
If instead equipped with a shear bolt, the bolt could break if something is hit severely. It’s a simple process, but then a new bolt has to be installed. With a slip clutch, the rider can immediately go back to work after the obstacle is removed.
“If there’s a job that you’re not going to be using it often, you’d want to go with a shear bolt unit. It has a lower cost on it,” Peters says. “Someone who uses it for a living, they would have a slip clutch, so if they hit something, they can just lift it up and keep going again.”
After purchase, maintaining a tiller implement is fairly simple. Before using a tiller, check the tines to make sure they’re clear of any debris, are not bent and are fastened tightly. Depending on the model, there is typically only one grease zerk that needs to be attended to. Occasionally check the gearbox/transmission fluid level and lubricate the PTO shaft, which are the only precautions needed to help ensure longevity of the implement.
“The gearbox needs to be filled about two-thirds of the way up. Two-thirds is considered full,” Rinehard says. “It’s turning at 540 rpm and that’s going to churn up a lot of air bubbles, so you have to have room for expansion.” The side drive also needs to have oil up to the specified level.
No oil or grease was required back in the olden days to get a horse moving, so if checking a few service intervals is all that’s needed to keep a tiller moving, then entering the 21st century was worth it. To learn even more about tiller attachment and implements for compact tractors, visit your local dealer.
Kelly Pickerel is assistant editor of Compact Equipment, based in Peninsula, Ohio.