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From the Farm: August, 2001

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Four-wheelers, or ATVs, have become increasingly popular on farms and ranches. They are reliable transportation to remote areas and can save wear and tear on your main vehicle.

There are several makes and models on the market. When purchasing your ATV, you should ask questions to avoid disappointment when you get the unit home. Not all of the farms at the Noble Research Institute use ATVs the same way, so we ask these questions before we buy the vehicles.

  • How much do I want to spend?
  • What type of tasks will I be using the new ATV for (such as strictly transportation, heavy pulling, or cattle handling)?
  • Do I need a 4 x 4 or 4 x 2, automatic or manual shift?
  • Do I need an air- or liquid-cooled engine?
  • Will a used unit be able to do the work?

There are a lot more questions you will ask after setting your sights on a particular ATV, but most of those will concern personal preferences such as ride and maneuverability.

At the foundation, ATVs serve many purposes. We pull cube wagons, mineral feeders, and fencing trailers; we gather and doctor cattle; and the list goes on. The point is, ATVs on foundation farms are used heavily, and we have put just about every make and model on the market through the wringer.

The following comments are based on our farm staff's experiences. I recommend that you buy an ATV with a manual transmission if you're going to use the vehicle to pull or tow. Since the automatic transmission was introduced three or four years ago, we have purchased three that haven't performed well under the stress of towing larger loads. They have a torque converter that can burn out during heavy operation. The automatics are excellent for general work and transportation, though.

One other consideration is the cooling system. If you are going to be traveling slowly in tall forage, I recommend buying a liquid-cooled ATV. Some of our air-cooled units became hot while pulling a sprayer along fencerows at low speed. They just can't circulate enough air to keep the motor cool.

The largest ATV that we use is an Arctic Cat 500, which is a 29-horsepower manual shift unit that provides all the pulling power we need. It is capable of pulling a 750-pound-capacity electric cube feeder and also runs the electric motor. It can pull the fencing trailer, tagging wagon, and similar equipment. This model is a real workhorse, but it is also the most expensive unit to operate. It costs approximately 80 cents an hour in fuel. We have a Honda Rancher 400 automatic, also a 29-horsepower unit, that doesn't do as much pulling as the Arctic Cat. We use it on sand. We do most of our pulling with it in the mud. It surprised me that this unit cost 21 cents per hour to run, since I consider it a medium-duty unit. Most of the medium-duty 300- to 400-cc units cost 21 to 48 cents an hour to run.

Hondas are the most economical to run, but their maneuverability and ride is not as good as the Kawasaki's. If I were looking for something to use to gather a few cows when good handling is essential or just for general transportation, I would use the Kawasaki. It costs a little more to operate, but its suspension is easy on the body and it handles well. If I want something for harder work, the Arctic Cat is my choice.