Those new to tractors or considering a tractor for their homestead might be somewhat confused about the tire options available and the pros and cons of each. Here we aim to simplify the concepts for those considering such things.
Rear tire types
Turf Tires (R-3)
Turf tires are designed for just that – turf – as in grass. Turf tires are designed to operate on yards and grassy terrain without leaving behind tracks. Turf tires are the same kind of tire found on most riding lawn mowers.
- Smoothest ride
- Won’t leave tracks behind on well-drained lawns.
- They can still tear up a yard that is muddy)
- Usually the least expensive
- Inferior traction compared to other tires.
- Poor winter and wet weather performance.
- This can be helped somewhat with wheel weights
- Tractors used for paved or well-graded driveway tasks.
- Tractors used for lawn care on gentle sloping and flat yards.
- Lawn or driveway maintenance.
Industrial Tires (R-4)
R4 tires are sometimes called ‘industrial’ tires and share a common composition and tread pattern as tires used on industrial equipment such as skid steers and some fork lifts. The tread on R4 tires has a barred pattern like an agricultural tire, but are more subdued. They are an all purpose tire that has more aggressive tread than a turf tire but less so than an ag tire. If the tractor operator is careful, an R4 tire will not tear up dry lawns and surfaces and distributes the weight a bit more evenly than an ag tire.
- Useful in a wide variety of uses and conditions.
- Better traction than a turf tire.
- Causes minimal to no damage on lawns with careful operation.
- Considered by many as a good all-purpose tire.
- Rougher ride than a turf tire.
- Slightly less traction than an ag tire.
- Does not shed snow and mud quite as well as an ag tire.
- Less aggressive tread than ag tires
- The more aggressive the tread, the faster the wear in dry conditions or hard surfaces.
- General purpose homesteading where the tractor is used on a variety of surfaces, both hard and soft, or where some use on turf is likely.
Ag Tires (R-1/R-1W/R2)
Ag tires are primarily used for agricultural use where the equipment will be used for navigating across and through the uneven and rough terrain of farms, fields, etc. They have a very aggressive tread that sheds snow and mud superbly. Most common are R-1 and for those in wet mucky conditions, R-1W. R2 are more common in areas that are extremely wet such as rice paddies or cranberry bogs and not a likely choice for homesteading.
- Aggressive, deep tire tread supplies superior traction and shedding of snow and mud – particularly R1W.
- Best tire for not getting stuck
- Excellent traction.
- Larger tread equals more wear and possibly higher cost.
- Very hard on lawns/turf
- Leaves large ruts on soft ground.
- Heavy tread also equates to a rougher ride on hard ground.
- Uses where the majority of the use is not on hard or established surfaces but on rough terrain.
- Operation in mud and snow.
- Operation in wetter conditions.
To Fill or Not to Fill
Tires are often filled with additional (usually liquids such as antifreeze or beat juice) material to add additional weight to the tractor. The weight of the tractor is very important to its function – perhaps even more important than the horsepower! The additional weight in the tires adds weight, and more importantly – ballast – to the tractor. In our opinion, the added ballast is essential when using a tractor a with front-end loader (“FEL”) since the loader will load the front of the tractor with heavy loads. Some account for this with weights added to the back frame of the tractor, however, this can be cumbersome to add and remove, or inhibit the use of some rear attachments.
Filling tires can make all the difference for traction and should be considered by those using their tractors for general purpose homesteading. It can be expensive (plan on a few hundred dollars for the pair of back tires) but is worthwhile for the added traction and safety.
For us, using weighted/filled tires made substantial improvements to the tractor and allowed us to use the tractor to work in places we were not able to use it prior to filled tires.
What about front tires?
Front tire selections are usually made from the same choices above, with a few additional options for one or more “ribs” on the tire that provide additional support.
The type of tires chosen for a homesteading tractor depends on how your tractor will be used. Each person and scenario are different. Some tractor owners mix the types placing one kind on the back of the tractor and another on the front. Before deciding, spend some time determining how your tractor will be used and the proportion of time it will be used in each scenario.
If you are worried about your lawn, but most of your tractor use is elsewhere, consider buying a dedicated mower and getting R4 or Ag tires on your tractor since there is no single “one-size-fits-all’ tire.
Consider scouting out places like Craigslist and auctions for potential extra tires for use in different scenarios. For some, it is worthwhile to maintain separate sets.