How To Use A Backhoe On A Farm {A Simple Guide}

A backhoe is a multipurpose tool for all manner of digging and excavation projects. You can use the backhoe end of the equipment to dig. The front loader end is used to move dirt and other materials from place to place. A backhoe is an excellent piece of equipment to have on hand for just about any project. That’s why it is such a familiar sight on building locations, and that‘s why it is so useful on the farm.

In this article, we provide an introduction and overview of the backhoe. We also provide good advice on what to look for when buying a used backhoe. Read on to learn more on how to use a backhoe on a farm.

What Does A Backhoe Look Like?

what does a backhoe look like

You may hear the backhoe referred to as a backhoe loader. This piece of equipment has its hoe (digging bucket) located behind the cab. The loader bucket is attached in front of the cab.

The backhoe is used in much the same way a hand hoe is used. The arm of the machinery swings back and pulls the hoe through and over the ground toward the tractor cab.

The loader bucket on the front part of the machinery lifts dirt like a shovel. The driver of the equipment can swivel his/her seat forward and back to operate both attachments.

What Can You Do With A Backhoe?

what can you do with a backhoe

On your farm or homestead, you can use a backhoe for lots of different tasks. For example, you might use it to dig large holes in which to sink pole barn posts or anchor posts. A backhoe is an excellent tool for tree transplanting. You can also dig up old stumps and haul them away.

Additionally, if you have big rocks to move, a backhoe can really help you out. Not only can you remove large boulders, you can carefully relocate them into precise positions to build a wall or just enhance your landscaping.

Is A Backhoe Right For Every Job?

Although backhoes are very versatile, many contractors prefer to use smaller machinery (e.g. a mini excavator and/or a skid steer) to perform focused, specific tasks. They find that renting these smaller machines is more cost effective and that the machines are more usable to more employees.

Even so, the backhoe continues to be an important piece of machinery for performing a wide variety of tasks in farming, landscaping and construction. A backhoe can be more nimble than a skid steer, and it can lift more.

Choose The Right Backhoe For Your Job

The versatile backhoe consists of a tractor cab with a loader in the front and a fixed arm in the back. Both of these utilities can be easily replaced by other attachments for a high degree of usefulness. Backhoes are multi-purpose machinery that can be used for moving materials, digging and much more.

All this makes a backhoe a far more valuable piece of equipment than more specialized machines, such as excavators, which have only a single purpose.

Using Our Backhoe On The Farm

You can buy or rent a backhoe in three sizes:

  • Mini 70 HP
  • Standard 90 HP
  • Large 100 HP

Although any backhoe is quite a bit smaller than any excavator, it is also an excellent choice for excavating and moving earth. It can be used to break up asphalt, dig trenches and move many different types of materials.

A Backhoe Can Be Used With A Wide Variety Of Attachments

It is possible to fit a backhoe with hydraulic power attachments that enable the machine to perform a lot of tasks other than digging and lifting. For example, contractors often use hammers and breakers to break concrete, asphalt and hard, rocky soil.

You can also add a “tiger tooth” attachment that allows you to break up extremely hard or frozen soil. This is an excellent advantage in the far northern United States.

Other attachments that can be used to dig in a frozen landscape include:

  • Hydraulic hammer
  • Rotary cutter
  • Static ripper
  • Frost bucket

Other useful attachments include:

  • Buckets equipped with thumbs
  • Street sweepers
  • Snow pushes
  • Snow plows
  • Compactors
  • Couplers
  • Rippers
  • Brooms
  • Augers

Where Did Backhoes Come From?

where did backhoes come from

There are excellent American backhoe companies and excellent European manufacturers. Here are some of the most well-known backhoe manufacturers (past and present) in the US and in Europe.

1. The John Deere Company was established in 1837, when it became well known for the creation and production of the steel plow. Today, it is the most well-known name in heavy equipment worldwide.

This time and quality honored company currently produces seven different types of backhoes, ranging from the compact 69 horsepower 310L EP backhoe to the very large 148 horsepower 710L.

2. Wain-Roy was one of the earliest backhoes. Hydraulic systems were developed in the early 20th century, and the development of the hydraulic backhoe followed close on its heels. In 1947, two gentlemen by the name of Roy E. Handy, Jr. and Vaino J. Holopainen invented the backhoe swing frame and formed a company called Wain-Roy.

By 1948, the partners offered the first backhoe with a hydraulic guiding arm. It was aptly named the Wain-Roy Backhoe. The machine was mostly sold by Ford dealerships.

3. The Caterpillar or “CAT” tractor came into being in the early part of the 20th Century with the merger of the Holt Manufacturing Company and the CL Best Tractor Company. Benjamin Holt invented a piece of heavy machinery that could move along using a continual tracked system.

He nicknamed his invention “caterpillar” because of the way it crawled along. When the two companies merged their assets and their capabilities, the Caterpillar moniker was adopted.

Today, Caterpillar makes several models of backhoes ranging from 68 horsepower CAT 415F2 and 415F2 IL to 131 horsepower CAT 450.

Caterpillar company is also well know for the manufacture of backhoes, along with specialized attachments including:

  • Soil excavation buckets
  • Ditch cleaning buckets
  • Coral buckets
  • Rock buckets

These attachments are made to fit onto the backhoe and amplify its capabilities.

Additionally, CAT makes a multitude of attachments to take the place of the loader, including:

  • Material handlers
  • Asphalt cutters
  • Angle blades
  • Snow plows
  • Rakes

TIP: Always double-check to be sure that any attachment you wish to use with your backhoe is compatible with the particular make and model you are operating.

4. JI Case began equipment production by building road construction equipment. Knowledgeable in the workings of steam engines, Case gradually branched out to create gas powered heavy machinery and founded CASE Construction Equipment.

The company introduced the very first factory integrated backhoe/tractor loader in 1957, and has been building and selling backhoes ever since. In fact, in the early 21st century, the company could boast having produced five-hundred-thousand backhoes.

CASE’s popular backhoes are well-known for mechanical and operational excellence. Hallmarks of CASE manufacturing include:

  • Top of the line hydraulics
  • Greater breakout power
  • Excellent fuel economy
  • Advanced drive-train

This is why their machines tend to have a very low rate of depreciation. In fact, the company won the Equipment Watch Highest Retained Value award for its CASE 580N Series in both 2016 and 2017.

5. JCB is a popular, successful European backhoe producer. Joseph Cyril Bamford established the JCB company in Europe in 1945. This company was actually the first manufacturer of backhoes and produced the first hydraulic loader in Europe in 1948. Much as we tend to call a backhoe a “CAT” in the US, in the UK and Ireland backhoes are often called “JCB”.

Today it is the leading producer and manufacturer of this machinery worldwide. The company has a total of twenty-two factories located on four different continents. They sell their heavy equipment in more than 150 different countries around the world. The machines were introduced in the US in the 1960s.

JCBs sales of backhoes surpass those of all other companies combined on a regular, ongoing basis. Notable sellers are:

  • 3CX Compact Backhoe Loader
  • 3CX Backhoe Loader
  • 3CX 15 Super Backhoe
  • 4CX-15 Super Backhoe Loader

Of these, the 3CX 15, with its 109 horsepower engine is the most popular and the best seller.

How Do You Operate A Backhoe Safely?

As with all heavy machinery, you need to be sure you are competent and sober before getting involved.

Operating a backhoe is not extremely difficult, but it’s not something you can do intuitively, and you’d better have good focus and know exactly what you are about from the outset.

Check with your local officials to determine what sort of training and certification you will need to safely and legally operate a backhoe in your area. Once you have the required training and licensing, be sure to use common sense when operating a backhoe.

Follow these guidelines:

  1. Always read through the job plans and familiarize yourself with the job site before you begin.
  2. Perform regular safety and maintenance inspections of your equipment.
  3. Exercise extreme caution when dealing with uneven ground or steep slopes as this could cause you to flip over.
  4. Keep away from the edge of any drop-off.
  5. Use stabilizer legs for added safety on risky jobs.
  6. Never raise the bucket excessively high, especially on steep, unstable or uneven terrain.
  7. Always wear your seat belt. If you fall out of the cab, you risk death or injury and possible damage and/or injury to everything and everyone in the area.
  8. Stay sharp at all times to avoid accidentally hitting or running over people, animals, vehicles, landscaping, equipment, buildings, etc.
  9. Make sure everyone and everything is out of the way before you move with a load. Falling debris can cause major damage.
  10. Always carry loads low to the ground to avoid dropping debris and/or flipping over.
  11. Look around and check your blind spots before you move.
  12. Don’t let anyone ride in the bucket.
  13. Always drive slowly. 5 mph is plenty fast.
  14. Put safety first every minute of every day.

What To Look For When Buying A Used Backhoe?

what to look for when buying a used backhoe

Although a backhoe is not absolutely necessary on a farm, you are sure to find that if you invest in one, you’ll be glad you did. These versatile machines can work wonders to make your farm chores and projects quicker, easier, more efficient and more professional.

Additionally, if you own a backhoe, you may be able to make a bit of money hiring out to perform tasks like digging ponds, pools, driveways and foundations.

When looking for a used backhoe for farm work, it’s a good idea to seek out well maintained machines that are between ten and fifteen years old and have low to moderate hours (2500-5200) hours logged. A well maintained backhoe with this age and hours still has lots of good work left in it.

In addition to these basics, you’ll also want to look for specific qualities, abilities and capacities.

There are two classes of backhoes. Class is determined by the machine’s digging depth and horsepower. Most backhoes from major manufacturers have similar performance abilities in these areas.

When considering individual used backhoes, there are 7 areas you must examine.

1. Can You Dig It?

Digging capacity is an especially important capability to examine. Smaller backhoes may offer a digging depth between fourteen and fifteen feet. Larger class models may have a digging depth capability between fifteen and sixteen feet.

It is also possible to get even greater digging depth with models such as the John Deer 710J, which can dig nearly eighteen feet or JCBs 3C-15, which can dig a little over twenty feet deep.

You can also add to digging depth with an extendable boom, which can add as much as five feet.

2. What’s The Breakout Force?

You’ll also want to closely examine breakout force, which is the amount of power burst a machine can apply when lifting a load. This is a brief burst of power that helps get the load up and moving or helps break through an especially challenging surface.

Breakout performance can vary greatly from one make and model to the next, ranging from 10,000-16,400 pounds. Overall, JCB machines tend to have superior breakout force.

3. How Much Can It Lift?

Overall loader lift capacity is also of the utmost importance. Loader lift capacity ranges fall within two categories:

  • A machine that has a digging depth of 14-15 feet typically has a lift capacity of 5500-8700 pounds.
  • A machine that has a digging depth of 15-16 feet typically has a lift capacity of 6300-8800 pounds.

4. Look For Good Record-Keeping

When buying a piece of used, heavy equipment it is always a good idea to get a full history. There is a huge difference between a machine that has been used by an individual, careful owner in a home or farm setting and one that has been used day in and day out on a construction site by an ever changing rotation of employees.

Require good maintenance records before you ever look at the machine. Examine the records closely to determine whether or not you are actually interested in this backhoe. Maintenance records can give you valuable information that will help you barter if you need to.

5. Inspect The Machine

Once you’ve decided you want to consider a machine, do so in a sensible and methodical manner. Before you ever drive the tractor, have a good look at it. Pay close attention to:

  • Hydraulic system
  • Transmission
  • Damage
  • Devices
  • Chassis
  • Engine
  • Tires

6. Go For A Spin

After you’ve walked around and performed a visual inspection, take the machine for a test drive. Listen to the engine and transmission for unusual noises. Operate the hydraulic devices. If possible, try it out on a pile of dirt, hay or other material.

7. Make An Honest Offer

Consider carefully and make a reasonable offer. Naturally, a newer machine that is larger and more powerful, has more dig depth and less use hours will cost you more than an older, more used, less powerful machine. Additionally, the brand of machine will make a difference in the cost.

For example, a 60-90 HP CASE backhoe that is five years old, has clocked a thousand hours of use and has a dig depth of about fourteen feet could run you between 60 and 70 thousand dollars.

If it has a couple thousand hours of use, the price could be half that. If the machine is well maintained and in good working order, it may be just what you need.

On the other hand, if you are looking at John Deere, a comparable machine that is ten years old and has two or three-thousand hours of use might cost you just as much as the CASE machine with higher logged hours.

CAT brand holds its value well, so you can expect to pay twice as much for a machine of the same age and with the same number of hours as a used CASE or John Deere backhoe.

Expect To Pay A Minimum Of $15000

Generally speaking, if you run across an older backhoe (e.g. fifteen years) that has lots of hours on it but is still in very good condition, it would not be unreasonable to pay $15000 for it.

Don’t go for any bargain basement deals below this price as you will almost surely end up with a machine that’s on its last legs.

Sam Ellis
Sam is a founder and editor of Farm & Animals. In personal life he is a proud father of a boy and twin girls. He believes it is more important than ever before to encourage children to experience the joy of farm animals. Farming makes as much sense as the sunshine in our world.

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