Skid Steer vs. Tractor: Which Should You Choose?

Skid Steer vs. Tractor: Which Should You Choose? (2024 Comparison)

Machinery has become a must for every farmer. Whether you’re just starting your journey as a hobby farmer or a seasoned farmer, farm machinery can do you a great deal of good.

However, two options often pop up when people think about which equipment to buy for their farm work: tractors and skid steer loaders.

Both equipment can perform many of the same tasks, but there are still some notable differences. A knowledge of these differences will help you know which suits your work. 

The suitable machine depends on the tasks you want to use it for, your budget, and storage space.

That said, let’s review both machines, their key differences, and what they are most useful for.

Skid Steer Loader Overview

Skid Steer Loader Overview

Skid steers are popular construction equipment that are commonly found on construction sites. But that’s not to say they don’t have other uses.

We are beginning to see more of it used in farms and landscaping operations.

Skid steers, sometimes called skid loaders, are compact, rigid-framed, engine-powered machines with lift arms that can attach to different kinds of buckets, construction tools, and farm attachments. 

Skid steer loaders are either wheeled or tracked. Wheeled skid steers have four wheels, with the pairs of left and right wheels synchronized to work independently.

Essentially, you can operate the left wheel independently from the right wheel and vice versa.

Tracked skid steers work similarly but have tracks on either side as opposed to wheels. 

The working mechanism of skid steers makes them more unique than other types of equipment, allowing the machine to move in a “skid” motion.

The ability of their independent wheels to make zero-radius turns makes them highly maneuverable, even in tight spaces. 

Skid steers typically come with enclosed cabs and advanced control features. They are also designed to accommodate many kinds of attachments.

Their versatility level stands them out among heavy-duty equipment.

Uses of Skid Steer Loaders

Uses of Skid Steer Loaders

The most crucial characteristic of skid steers is their variety of attachment options.

This single feature makes it possible to use the same equipment to complete a wide range of jobs.

That said, here are some common uses of a skid steer loader.

Demolition

Skid steers are very useful for both interior and exterior demolitions.

The unique turning mechanism they feature makes it possible to turn in narrow spaces, which is the sort of characteristic needed in interior demolitions.

Their compact sizes also mean that you can work with them to demolish projects in tight spaces.

For example, it is easier to tear down a house without affecting other houses in the neighborhood. 

Snow clearing

Another popular use of skid steer loaders is for snow clearance. The standard attachments to skid steers are buckets.

These buckets work for several different tasks that involve lifting and moving. They also work well for clearing snow off job sites or driveways.

However, you can also get a snowblade or a snow blower attachment for heavy winter periods when the snow gets intense. 

Excavation

One of the reasons why skid steer loaders are popular construction equipment is their ability to handle most earthmoving tasks.

Depending on their needs, operators can use them for digging, trenching, and excavating. There are so many attachments designed specifically for these tasks.

You have to get one that suits your particular needs. Some examples of attachments needed for earthmoving tasks include backhoes, trenchers, augers, and wheel saws.

With the right attachments, skid steers can dig anything from narrow portholes to a whole foundation of a big building. 

Skid steers can also perform excavation jobs on small and big sites. You just need the right attachments, and you’ll be good to go.

Rippers, tillers, wheel saws, and trenchers are some of the most popular attachments for this purpose.

Grading and backfilling

Skid steers not only feature a unique working mechanism; they also have a unique design, making them excellent for tasks like aeration, ground leveling, and hole filling.

The bucket attachment is always available for these tasks. But it’s okay if you prefer specialized equipment.

Attachments like rakes and grading bars offer you the right versatility for these tasks.

You can also use these attachments to scoop up rocks during the ground leveling process, so you don’t create big trenches as you go. 

Agricultural works

Skid steers are becoming more popular among agriculturists. They are versatile and work well with most of the attachments needed for farming.

The bucket attachment can also be helpful for cleaning barns and stables.

We’ve even seen cases where farmers go as far as purchasing bale attachments for moving hay.

Tractor Overview

Tractor Overview

Simply put; tractors are high-power, low-speed traction vehicles and power units mechanically similar to trucks or automobiles but designed for use off the road.

Tractors are most common in agricultural settings. However, their range in power and size makes them useful in other industries and applications.

The large back wheels that tractors feature provide traction for the tractor’s operation, especially when it needs to haul trailers and other attachments. 

Unlike skid steer loaders, tractors are fitted with standard wheels controlled by a four-wheel drive.

Despite the relatively massive size of tractors, they can still move pretty quickly, allowing operators to travel quickly around their property.

The weights of tractors are also typically compact to fit their size; hence, their minimal ground disturbance. 

Tractors can either come with or without cabs. Most newer models come with enclosed cabs to protect operators from harsh weather conditions.

Some models are more sophisticated than others, and this technological sophistication can significantly influence the price.

Uses of Tractors

Uses of Tractors

Tractors come in different sizes and types. The variety of sizes and models further proves that it works for different functions.

However, if you’re still wondering whether it’ll suit you, here are brief reviews of tractors’ most popular use cases. 

Mowing heavy brush

Tractors rank high among the best technologies designed for trimming.

They don’t just do the job quickly; they also do it efficiently, leaving the lawns in your residence or sports field as neatly trimmed as possible.

However, it’s important to note that you’ll need huge and bulging tractors for such jobs.

A medium-duty tractor 5 to 6 feet wide with the right mowing attachments will deliver perfectly mowed grasses. 

Easier livestock management

We live in an era of modernization, where innovations are resulting in new methods of practicing almost everything.

It’s not surprising that these innovations are also impacting even the most unexpected areas.

For example, the invention of tractors has made livestock management easier and more manageable.

This machinery can be a lifesaver during harsh weather. You can use your tractors to bring feeding materials from outside into your animals’ shelter.

Snow clearing

For a machine designed primarily for delicate yard work, you’ll be surprised at how versatile a tractor can be in your yard.

Throw in wheel weights, tire chains, and a snow blower or snow plow attachment into the mix, and you’d have successfully changed your lawn tractor to a serviceable snow-clearing machine.

No doubt about the convenience that a lawn tractor brings compared to walking behind a traditional snow blower.

Some models even have small enclosed cabs that you can attach to keep yourself safe from the blowing snow.  

Lawn aeration

We’ve talked about pulling carts and wagons with your garden tractor, but there’s more you can pull.

For example, you can pull some models of lawn aerators around your yard. Lawn aerators are great tools for improving soil drainage and increasing the level of nutrients and oxygen in the soil.

Having one or more of this equipment makes sense if you consistently farm on a piece of land.

While some small lawn aerators can be pushed by hand, most popular models are usually too big and can only be pulled by a tractor. 

Soil tilling and cultivation

Like lawn aerators, tillers and cultivators can be towed around your yard. Smaller tractors’ powers and working capabilities may limit the distance you can cover with them.

However, they are still fantastic equipment for hobby farmers who want to cultivate a small garden plot.

Most farmers in this category would not have enough money to invest in heavy machinery. Thus, they often opt for smaller and more affordable options. Still, if you have the money to invest in bigger tractors, go for it.

Bigger tractors are powerful enough to move most of the average-sized tillers available today.

Loading and dumping using front-end loaders

Higher-end lawn tractors often feature support for installing small front-end loaders.

This single feature can open up endless possibilities for farmers to load, shift, and dump loose materials such as dirt, manure, debris, and garden compost.

Yes, lawn tractors do not have as much power as utility tractors, but there are smaller models or front-end loaders today that can be attached in the same manner as tillers and cultivators.

Such models offer users a convenient way to maintain their budget while expanding the capabilities of their lawn tractors.

Skid Steer vs. Tractors: Key Differences

Skid Steer vs. Tractors Key Differences

With everything we’ve discussed, you can see that tractors and skid steers share many similar characteristics.

However, that doesn’t make them the same. The key to knowing which will be best for you lies in knowing their differences. Here are some of their differences in critical areas. 

1. Versatility

Both types of equipment are versatile in their ways. Skid steers typically feature dual drive that allows for good lift and steering capabilities.

They can perform some of the popular functions of tractors.

Their ability to also work on other earthmoving tasks like digging, trenching, grading and more makes them more versatile than tractors. 

But that’s not to say that tractors are not versatile. Tractors are designed for tasks such as pushing and pulling heavy equipment.

They can also help with the transportation of different kinds of materials across rough terrains. 

2. Horsepower

Another difference between these two pieces of equipment is their power. Skid steer loaders are powered by diesel engines ranging from 13 – 60 HP.

On the other hand, tractors have more varieties of horsepower options, although the most common options range from 96 HP to 126 HP.

Tractors are the obvious winners here, and that’s why they can pull heavier attachments. Their power also means they can take on bigger jobs than skid steers. 

3. Mobility

Mobility is an essential aspect of heavy machinery because of the need to move them from one place to another.

Skid steers are the obvious winners in this area because of their compact designs that give them access to the tiniest spaces. 

Skid steers do not have a bulky front hood like most heavy-duty equipment. So their movement in tight spaces is generally smooth and unobstructed.

Skid steers are also highly maneuverable, with lift arms designed to rotate 360 degrees. Thus, operators can pick things up from different angles.

4. Attachments

Both tractors and skid steer loaders are versatile machines that can be outfitted with various attachments for different applications.

However, tractors have more attachments than skid steers because of their size and working mechanism.

Skid steers do not have service brakes, so they can’t handle most forest-class implements and attachments designed for tractors.

However, that doesn’t mean they don’t have their attachments. In fact, they use over 30 types of implements, including backhoes, broom attachments, wheel loaders, etc. 

5. Task functionality

Task functionality is one of the most vital areas when buying heavy-duty equipment.

A skid steer loader is the first place to look when you’re looking for a self-loading machine that can handle a wide variety of tasks from grading, digging, trenching, loading and stacking material handling, cleaning, and snow removal. 

Skid steer loaders are also designed to provide top performance when lifting materials so that the risk of injuries and inefficient work is reduced to the barest minimum.

Tractors can also be useful for various tasks, but skid steers are by far the big winners when talking about task functionality.

Conclusion: Skid Steer vs. Tractor

Conclusion Skid Steer vs. Tractor

The skid steer vs. tractor debate will continue forever. Both pieces of heavy-duty equipment have so many similarities that one can be confused with the other.

But they are not the same. You must know the difference to pick the right one for your needs. We’ve talked about both pieces of equipment in this article.

We’ve also reviewed their differences and advantages to help you decide which is best for you.

FAQ

What are the advantages of skid steer?

Skid steers offer several advantages, including exceptional maneuverability in tight spaces due to their compact size and ability to turn within their own footprint. They are versatile machines, easily adaptable to various attachments for tasks like digging, lifting, grading, and snow removal. Skid steers also provide good visibility to the operator, enhancing safety and productivity on job sites.

Are tractor and skid steer attachments the same?

Tractor and skid steer attachments are not the same and are typically designed for different machines. Tractor attachments are meant for use with tractors, which have a different operating mechanism and power source compared to skid steers. Skid steer attachments are specifically designed to be compatible with the quick-hitch system of skid steers, making them easy to attach and detach.

Are skid steers any good?

Skid steers are generally considered to be highly capable and efficient machines. Their versatility makes them suitable for a wide range of applications in construction, landscaping, agriculture, and more. However, their performance depends on factors such as the model, attachment used, and operator skill.

What is the useful life of a skid steer?

The useful life of a skid steer can vary based on factors like maintenance, operating conditions, and brand. In general, well-maintained skid steers can last anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 hours or more. Regular maintenance, including oil changes, filter replacements, and inspections, can extend the lifespan of a skid steer. Proper care and usage can ensure that these machines provide many years of reliable service.