How Do You Size and Buy the Right Rotary Tiller Attachment for a Tractor?

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Answers to Questions You Didn’t Know You Had

So, you’re looking for a rotary tiller. One that matches well with your tractor, is well suited to your soil conditions and will be a go-to tool for years to come. Finding the tiller that is perfect for you is more involved than just driving down to your local dealer and driving home with your new tool. There are a number of things you should consider when making a tiller purchase. What is the width of your tractor? How much horsepower does it have? What are your soil conditions? Are there rocks? Who will do repairs should the need arise?

Forward or Reverse Rotation?

This should perhaps be the first question you answer. The answer to this question could limit your selection of tillers as not all manufacturers offer a reverse-till rotary tiller. Your soil conditions may also dictate whether you can even consider a reverse-rotation model. A reverse-till model will do a much better job in seed bed preparation with fewer passes. The reverse tilling action of the rotor helps bury the residue as well as large clods of dirt and deposits the fines on top. Forward-till models do not bury the residue as well and tend to leave larger clods closer to the surface, requiring additional passes to achieve similar results.

Before you rush out and buy a reverse-till model, consider your soil type. The rotor of a reverse-rotation tiller turns in the opposite direction the tractor is traveling, pulling itself into the ground. Rotors on forward-rotation models turn the same direction as the tractor and tend to walk on top of hardpan. For that reason, reverse-till models will do an exceptional job in dry, hard soil or virgin ground. Forward-rotation tillers are good in existing garden spaces or well-aerated soils. However, if your soil is rocky or has a high clay content, your choice is limited to a forward-rotation model. Reverse-till models will pull rocks up and over the rotor and can do significant damage to the hood or the tines.

Gear vs. Chain?

When you are evaluating three-point rotary tillers, there are essentially two drive options: chain or gear. Both have their merits, while gear-drive tillers can offer some limiting factors that might make them ill-suited for your tractor type. Both chain-drive and gear-drive tillers offer rotor speeds around 200 revolutions per minute (rpm), more than adequate for tilling in the 2-mph range. Both tillers offer end-mounted drive systems that are easy to maintain. Gear-drive tillers put more torque to the ground, making them better for virgin soil, although chain-drive tillers will do an adequate job as well. Weight can also be a limiting factor depending on the size of your compact tractor — gear-drive tillers tend to weigh more than chain-drive models.

Another factor to consider is repair. Both chains and gears are very durable components. However, in the unlikely event that you break a chain, you can get a chain at nearly any farm supply store and be back up and running the same day. That cannot be said for gear-driven models where, even if the parts are shipped overnight, you’ve lost at least a day.

Lastly, a lot of economy gear-drive tillers are wholly made overseas and imported into the United States — something else to consider — especially if you want an American-made product.

Four or Six Tine?

The number of tines per flange on the rotor is also a question you need to answer. That number, usually either four or six, varies by manufacturer and model and should be a point of consideration when you are purchasing a rotary tiller. The more tines, the more horsepower required to turn the soil. A typical six-tine-per-flange tiller can require up to 23 percent more horsepower that a comparable four-tine model. Consider this: A typical 5-ft rotary tiller with four tines can be run by a 25-hp tractor and the same 5-ft rotary tiller with six tines would need a 31-hp tractor to operate the tiller at peak performance. A 40-hp requirement jumps to nearly 50 hp with six tines. That is significant and should factor into your buying decision. Additionally, similar to the gear-drive vs. the chain-drive comparison, more tines per flange also means more weight. Be certain that your compact tractor has the muscle to lift a six-tine tiller out of the ground.

Other Considerations When Buying

Almost all tiller manufacturers provide specifications on their tillers that state the tilling depth: This tiller can till 7 in. deep! That’s great, but tilling depth is a specification that is a bit deceiving. While it is true that depth can be controlled to a certain degree with the skid shoes on the tiller, it is also true that to get to the stated tilling depth on most three-point rotary tillers you must make several passes.

Do you have a fence or other structure that might prohibit you from tilling as close as you’d like? Some tiller manufacturers offer models that offset to the right as you sit in the tractor seat. Offsetting your tiller allows you to get close to buildings or fence lines while keeping your tractor a safe distance away. While this feature is not a necessity for all tiller owners, offset capability is usually not a big cost adder but is nice to have when you need it. Dealers are an important part of the equation when buying a tiller or any tractor implement for that matter. Knowledgeable dealers are going to know if the tiller you’ve selected will work with your tractor, is right for your soil conditions and is right for your intended use.

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Your soil conditions will dictate whether you can even consider a reverse-rotation model. A reverse-till model will do a much better job in seed bed preparation with fewer passes but only works well in certain soils.

Parts availability and service are also important. Again, you are going to get the service after the sale with your local authorized implement dealer. Speaking of service after the sale, what if you have a warranty issue? Warranties vary greatly by manufacturer, from gearboxes to the drive systems to wear items. Make sure you understand the warranty: what it covers, for how long and who is responsible for actually doing the repair.

Most three-point rotary tillers will give you years of reliable service if maintained properly. Tillers take a beating in a dirty, hostile environment. Dirt is the enemy of bearings and other moving parts. It can work into places you would not think possible. That means as the owner it is imperative that you properly clean and lubricate at regular intervals. Manufacturers offer a suggested maintenance schedule in their operator manuals. They are meant to be followed. Make sure you check oil in gearboxes prior to use, grease drivelines and pivot points before and after use, replace wear items like skid shoes and tines when worn and touch up the paint to prevent rust. With proper care, your new rotary tiller will last for years to come.

Dee Warren is the marketing manager for Land Pride.

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  • Linda Jackson
    July 23, 2020 09:13:26

    When your tiller or ties stop digging 3 inches deep what is the problem and only did about an inch deep what can I do to solve that problem

  • Diana B
    February 12, 2020 08:07:06

    Hi Steve your information in the manual book. Check the manual.

  • Tom Eisele
    December 25, 2019 15:49:00

    What size rototiller is recommended for a JD 4120 with 3 point hitch, 43 horsepower, and 35 horsepower at PTO?

  • Steve
    June 22, 2019 08:19:05

    Will a 6foot 6 tine 3 point hitch rotiller run on a 584 international with 56 hp