Maximize Productivity with Versatile Machines

By Eric Morse, Two Rivers Marketing, Des Moines, Iowa | September 28, 2010

Of all the machines available to landscape contractors, none are more useful than a compact tractor or a compact loader. This equipment is popular with landscape contractors because of its ability to perform so many tasks. From soil preparation to maintaining the finished product, compact loaders and compact tractors help landscapers during any phase of their projects. Many contractors use a compact tractor or a compact loader; some use both. There are many reasons to have each type of machine in a landscaping fleet. Knowing the strengths each machine brings to the job site is a good way to illustrate why compact loaders and compact tractors are both needed.

Skid-Steer and Compact Track Loaders

If work is to be done in an area where space is constrained, a compact loader would be the better choice. Skid-steer and compact track loaders have the best maneuverability available compared to compact tractors because the loaders are able to turn within their own length.

"If a contractor specializes in new landscape construction or is working often in wet or muddy conditions, I would recommend a compact track loader," says Bryan Zent, marketing manager for Bobcat Company.

Compact track loaders are better for working in muddy or wet conditions because the track has more ground contact than wheels, giving the machine greater traction in these circumstances. The greater ground contact and traction doesn't increase turf damage, however. A compact track loader is less obtrusive on turf than a skid-steer loader because the tracks have a low ground pressure. The weight of the compact track loader is distributed evenly throughout the surface of the track that is in contact with the ground.

All-Wheel Steer Loaders

Many landscape contractors aren't familiar with another option even better suited to their work — the all-wheel steer loader.

The all-wheel steer loader has two steering modes: all-wheel steer or skid-steer. In other words, the operator can choose to allow the four steerable axles to oscillate or to stay fixed, which makes the machine operate as a skid-steer loader. This feature allows the operators to choose the steering mode best suited to the working conditions. If the all-wheel steer loader is working where space is tight, the operator can switch to the skid-steer mode so the machine is able to turn within its own length. If the all-wheel steer loader is working on turf and there is more room, the operator can use the all-wheel steer mode to reduce the possibility that the machine will damage the turf.

Many landscape contractors complain about spending additional time on a job repairing turf after work has been completed, which reduces profitability. The Bobcat A300 all-wheel steer loader has optional turf tires to enable an operator to work, cross and turn on turf and cause minimal damage.

"One of the biggest concerns we hear from landscape contractors is that they don't want the machine to damage the turf when turning," says Zent. "That's one of the reasons why Bobcat developed an industry exclusive, all-wheel steer loader."

Turf isn't the only surface landscapers encounter on their job sites. Most landscapers move from turf to concrete or asphalt and back to turf as they pick up materials and transport them to where work is taking place. Concrete and asphalt are abrasive and can wear on tires and tracks. The steerable axles on an all-wheel steer loader turn all the wheels and reduce tire wear.

Most landscape contractors lift and transport sod, stone and brick and therefore require a compact loader with a lifting capacity of 2,000 pounds or more. The Bobcat A300 all-wheel steer loader has a rated operating capacity of 3,000 pounds, and Bobcat manufactures three compact track loaders with a rated operating capacity over 2,000 pounds.

Compact Tractors

Familiarity with compact tractors is the machine's biggest advantage to many landscape contractors. Many landscapers have used compact tractors, and the experience of operating a tractor is similar to driving a car, since the machine is turned with a steering wheel.

"Working on a compact tractor is a little more intuitive than a compact loader because the way the machine is controlled is more familiar," says Zent. "It takes longer to train and for the operator to become proficient at using a compact loader than a tractor. However, once an operator is skilled at using the compact loader, they'll make up time in the productivity provided by the maneuverability of the machine."

Zent says another area where compact tractors excel is in ground-engaging work. "I think it is a little easier to use a backhoe attachment on a compact tractor," says Zent. "Backhoe attachments are available for compact loaders, but many landscape contractors may find it easier to use the attachment on a compact tractor because they have similar experience working on a backhoe loader."

Compact tractors boast a good breakout force for the front bucket. Compact loaders also have the bucket breakout force needed by landscape contractors. The best digging performance among compact loaders is found on compact track loaders because of the way the track engages the ground.

"Because tractors come from an agriculture background, I think they excel at performing work similar to agriculture, such as seeding or preparing soil," says Zent. "Again, similar attachments that seed or prepare the soil are available for compact loaders and the loaders do an excellent job, but using a compact tractor may be preferable."

A compact tractor outfitted with the proper tires will also minimize turf damage. R3 turf tires have good flotation compared to agricultural or all-purpose tires, making the R3 the best tires to use on turf.

Have a Compact Loader and Compact Tractor Available

While compact loaders and compact tractors both have their benefits, there's no reason to choose just one machine.

According to Zent, landscape contractors should take a number of factors into consideration when deciding whether a compact loader or a compact tractor would be best suited to their work.

"Landscape contractors should look at the area where the work will be performed, at the attachments available to the machine and their own preference when deciding between a compact loader and a compact tractor for a job," says Zent. "There are many reasons to consider having both a compact tractor and a compact loader available on landscape job sites." For instance, a compact loader may perform final grade work while a compact tractor is seeding a new lawn.

"Not every landscaping job site is the same. Sometimes a contractor will be working in a large area and a compact tractor might be the better option," says Zent. "If the job site is in constrained space, it would make more sense to have a compact loader available. Contractors might also find themselves on job sites where there is a large working area that contains areas that are hard to get to. In those cases, they might want to use both a compact tractor and a compact loader on the site to expedite work."

The main reason Zent would advise landscape contractors to have both a compact loader and compact tractor in their equipment fleet is attachments. "The range of attachments available for compact loaders and compact tractors makes both machines versatile tools."

The variety of attachments used on compact loaders and compact tractors allows these machines to work during every phase of a landscape project, from shaping and preparing the soil to planting trees, installing irrigation and cutting grass.

Hydraulic-powered attachments are mounted on the front of compact loaders, while PTO-driven attachments are mounted on the rear and belly of compact tractors. Attachments are available for the front of the tractor, with the loader bucket and pallet forks being the most popular options. A wide range of attachments are available to the landscape contractor, including augers, trenchers, tree spades, blades, backhoes, seeders, and rakes. In many cases, these attachments are available for compact tractors and compact loaders.

A wide range of attachments makes for a productive machine. The more productive the machine, the more a landscaper's crews and the landscaper's business will be able to accomplish.

"Contractors tell us that when they have a range of compact equipment available to them, they become more productive because the equipment allows them to increase the number of crews they have. Instead of having one crew of five on a job site, they can send a compact loader with a crew of three to one site and a compact tractor with a crew of two to another job site. That's the best way to increase the size of a landscape business."

Provided by: Bobcat Company Fargo, N.D.


Mini Track Loaders Provide Landscape Contractors with Even More Flexibility

In addition to all-wheel steer compact track and skid-steer loaders, there is another type of compact loader that landscape contractors should consider adding to their equipment fleet. There are times when landscape contractors encounter job sites machinery can't get to because the equipment won't fit through a narrow gate or similar space confinements. On these job sites, many contractors perform the work by hand. These contractors should consider a mini track loader.

"The mini track loader has gained popularity among landscapers because they have a low ground pressure and because they are able to do work in areas where other equipment cannot get to," says Zent.

Mini track loaders can be outfitted with trenchers, augers, buckets, and many other labor-saving attachments.

"The Bobcat mini track loader is the only one on the market that allows the operator to use the machine while walking behind it or by riding on an optional platform," says Zent. "The operator can remove the ride-on platform and fit the mini track loader into the smallest space possible. If the operator is going to be working with the machine for an extended period of time, the ride-on platform reduces operator fatigue."