walk behind mini-combine

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I am looking for a small walk behind combine to harvest a small(approx 2 acres) of wheat. I envision something that would be like a combination sickle bar mower and snow blower that I would walk behind down the rows like a garden power tiller. A friend said he thought he had seen something like this in Countryside Magazine. Any help out there? Thanks, LJ in Michigan

-- Loren DeHaan (ljdehaan@northlink.net), February 08, 2002


Small conbimes like you're looking for are limited production expensive pieces of equipment usually bought for research purposes. When I say expensive, I'm guessing $20,000 or $30,000.

Your best bet is to consider buying a BCS walking tractor which is imported into this country from Italy and try to locate an attachment that will do what you want.

I previously posted a link to a website< of a company who imports walking tractor attachments. There is a reaper/binder that attaches to a walking tractor.

You could then thresh the wheat by hand and use a manual seed cleaner later for the finally separation process.

-- Darren (
df1@infi.net), February 08, 2002.

OK this is going to sound insane but you can buy a "full sized" combine for peanuts. There are smaller Massey 35's, IH's and Deeres often stored in sheds forever that can be had for for very little. I'm picking up a pull type (PTO tractor type) IH 85 I paid $150 for this spring. The pull types are often more than the selfpropelled versions; I got lucky. It's just one less engine to maintain is all. You can if you look long and hard enough still find old threshing mills that were powered by belt drive engines!! We'll have ya running a rebuilt steam engine yet! I've never heard of a walk behind but it sounds like a great idea!

-- Ross (amulet@istar.ca), February 08, 2002.

As stated, buy an old combine. They go under $300 - a JD 45, or Gleaner K, or such.

The only current small combines are the reseach kind, which are $20,000 plus. Those imports sound interesting, but they must be spendy as well!

Any combine is full of many parts - gears, shafts, belts, chain, many many bearings. They are very expensive to maintain, and do not weather well outdoors. The drive belt alone for a JD 45 is probably close to $200, while I saw a very good one with 3 heads sell for less than $400...


-- paul (ramblerplm@hotmail.com), February 08, 2002.

I have to agree with Ross and Paul that the cheapest way is to buy an older tractor drawn combine. You should be able to buy a suitable tractor and the combine for less than $4,000. The old combines are cheap since there's very few buyers for them anymore.

One note of caution is that some of the combines are wide enough to need a wide load permit to transport over the highway. Even loading one on an 8' wide flatbed trailer may require some ingenuity since the combine wheels may have a track wider than 8'.

If you figure on towing a combine home check and see what type of axle or wheel bearings it has. If it has sleeve bearings you won't be able to tow the combine very fast without smoking them. You may be limited to driving down the road at 5 to 15 mph.

-- Darren (df1@infi.net), February 08, 2002.

Finally, something I have real experience in! My dad and I once sold two running and two parts combines (Gleaner CH's) to a guy who towed them home behind his truck one at a time. There is a special hitch that cradles the back axle to keep it up off the ground and provide something to hitch to. Then you remove the drive shafts to the front wheels and tow the bugger backwards with the butt in the air. All in All, don't do it casually.

Much simpler, cheaper, and historically accurate would be to hire one of your neighbors to cut it for you. I don't care if it is only two acres, it WILL ALWAYS BE CHEAPER to have it custom done than ANY type of home rigged system, ESPECALLY those $200 combines. You will have to spend hundreds just to get it in working order. There is a reason they sell so cheap. Near where I grew up in WA, (Lind to be exact) there is a "Combine Demolition Derby" every June. What a hoot. That's where a lot of the old junkers in our neck of the woods end up. Don't feel too bad about hiring someone else to do it for you, that's how wheat was traditionally threshed and winnowed.

Re thinking this, it is only two acres. You could get a sicle bar mower and mow, rake, bundle, it while slightly green and thresh it at your leisure. If you are into history, perhaps use your wheat field as a demonstration area for hand sithe technique for the public to see. Two acres would not be too much to do by hand, maybe two days back breaking labor.

Some thoughts anyway.

-- James in ID (jlfinkbeiner@yahoo.com), February 08, 2002.

Where is the best place to buy used tractors? Have 160 acres of desert trees in AZ.

-- Hank (hsnrs@att.net), February 08, 2002.

James is right too, combines can be expensive to fix, and it is always cheaper to get the job done. Not always better, not always timely and not always possible. I could get a neighbor to combine my 10-15 acres. He's a very busy person just doing his own work, uses a 2 year old CIH rotary combine (that will grind the straw to chaff)and for so few acres can I really expect him to stop and check his yeild loss and adjust. Can I expect him to only do half because the second half went in a different feild and it's not ready? Not practically I can't. I'd get him in when he can come, and deal with what he can harvest at his speed. Easy for me for only 15 acres I have bins augers, gravity boxes, tractors to power everything needed and manpower! I'll be dealing with straw that's hard to pick up and have what for a yeild loss? Custom isn't always the answer but it's worth a look. I've run pull types for 20 years started with a Cockshutt 422 and even it wasn't that bad with it's canvas draper feed! It's hardly cost me what custom would have, though I do my own repairs.

Places to find tractors, Ag Dealer
amulet@istar.ca), February 09, 2002.

The small walk behind combine you're looking for can be found at www.ferrari-tractors.com but make sure when you go to this web site that your doctor is near as a heart attack is likely when you see the price!The better idea is looking for an older combine as mentioned above.

-- Tim (goathillfarm50@aol.com), February 09, 2002.

I should stop visiting this site until I get my books unpacked :-D.

There is a book ( Small scale grain raising ? ) about harvesting small grains the old fashioned way - with a scythe / cradle, rake and fork and binding into trusses and sheaves using a length of the straw. I've read essays by Hillaire Belloc, Wendall Berry and others on the same topic.

Our ancestors would have thought it normal for one man to mow two acres of hay or grain in less than a day. The women followed behind to rake and the children could help with the trussing.

6 - 8 sheaves were stacked / stooked together to finish ripening and they would be hauled to a barn for storage. The threshing was something done in the winter as the grain was needed. It can be fed to stock unthreshed ( except perhaps barley, where the awns can cause injury )

I have a BCS walking tractor with a sicklebar mower. I've only used it to keep down weeds and brush in rough fields - if a wheel goes in a rut it can stray from a straight line and the blade guards can dig into rough ground and you find yourself mowing the roots for a while. If I had a smooth leval field.

-- Deborah Hardy (virgil@igs.net), February 11, 2002.

I can remember that the chaff and dust and chopped awns and "bees- wing" (seed hulls) were exceedingly itchy and irritating when you were riding a combine-harvester behind a tractor, back in the good old days when it was a luxury to have a big umbrella as a sunshade on farm machinery. Skin would be red for a fortnight afterwards from the miniature splinters driven in. I imagine it would be a good deal worse if you were right behind it, walking in it. I really don't want to think about what that dust and chaff and "calcareous and siliceous debris" would do to your crotch and your thighs while walking. Really I don't! I don't even want to think about what it would do to mine if I gave it a chance.

On the other hand, reaping and binding doesn't make much dust, and you could even do the reaping with a sickle-bar mower behind anything - they can be set up to lay the cut materials in swathes or windrows. Walk behind or 3-point linkage on a small trasctor.

Or, as people said, use a scythe with a cradle to windrow the cut material - if you swing conservatively - just a yard wide cut - right to centre (assuming you're right-handed) - don't even swing to the left; and a yard-long cut from a yard-long blade as well; and you walk 220 yards, then return, and repeat that process 11 times, then you've cut an acre. These are conservative numbers, but you'd still harvest an acre in less than an eight-hour day.

Of course, that does suppose you could keep swinging once every five seconds for hour after hour. However, if you plant smaller mixed plots, so everything doesn't ripen at once, then it would be a lot of much smaller jobs - oats, early wheat, rye, feed barley, late wheat, malting barley, triticale, several different strains of wheat - and peas, and broad beans, and field peas, and lupins, and soya beans, and many different field beans, and garbanzos, and lentils, and whatever. And as you get more used to it, you could widen your swing, until you're doing a full two yard swing right to left (you can do more, but it's too tiring - better to just swing the scythe and the arms - you don't want to get into reaching and moving your entire body with each cut. I'm talking from limited experience here, but my bad back has given me a very acute appreciation of ergonomics: I can still swing a scythe, but not wide, and not for long.

Note that I haven't said anything about binding sheaves (well covered above); or anything on threshing. Actually, for self-sufficiency and with home-schooled children, you could do it with your hands - just rub the grain out by hand in your palms. There are easier ways, but that would work.

Also note that an old PTO-driven combine will function as a stationary threshing-machine, without having all the additional strain of moving. Just throw the sheaves - opened if necessary - into the front of the combine, and ensure the back where the straw and chaff is deposited doesn't get clogged up. Straw and chaff makes marvelous compost or even mulch.

It really doesn't take much grain to feed a family for a year - it's when you want to start selling it to feed many families for a year so you can buy televisions that things start getting out of hand. You could get along on just two standard wheat bags (maybe three) per person per year, plus vegetables and eggs. With milk, cheese and yoghurt as well you could live well. Throw in Sunday roast chicken - let alone any form of red meat - and the President couldn't live better.

-- Don Armstrong (darmst@yahoo.com.au), February 12, 2002.

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