This month we interviewed Joshua Bardwell about his tractor, family, lifestyle, and more. Joshua is fulfilling his dream of becoming a farmer in rural Knoxville, Tennessee!
Your Name: Joshua Bardwell
Location: Knoxville, TN
Post Count: 1,512 (#351 of all-time)
How long have you been a member of TractorByNet.com?
I’ve been a member since May, 2012. I found the site via Google in the lead-up to purchasing my tractor. I had actually come across the site several times before, in the context of various web searches, but I didn’t really get active until I was thinking seriously about buying a tractor.
What do you like best about TractorByNet.com?
I know a lot of people say this, but it’s true: the amazing variety of knowledge that its members have, combined with a willingness to help out and share. Pretty much no matter what I have a question about, from electronics to welding, to landscaping, to livestock, to canning, to a good clean joke, TBN has me covered. It has motivated me to want to help out more on topics that I know about—to contribute to the community and improve it.
What type of tractor do you own?
I own a Bobcat CT225. Bobcat tractors are a bit under-represented here on TBN, but fortunately, there is a strong Kioti presence, and they’re mostly the exact same tractor. Now that Bobcat has decided to stop selling CUTs, I look forward to the value of my tractor significantly increasing due to its rarity (haha).
How long have you owned or operated tractors?
Since about June of 2012, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to a more rural location and raising fruits, vegetables, and livestock. The last three years have been a steady stream of acquiring various tools and equipment to compliment that lifestyle.
What do you enjoy most about tractors?
I’m sure my first answer is the most common one: their utility. A tractor, especially one equipped with a loader, is a fantastic general-purpose tool. Put the right attachment on the front or the back, and you can do most anything you can imagine. I also enjoy being able to quickly get things done that would be much more tedious by hand. For example, I recently helped my neighbor build raised garden beds by spreading a few cubic yards of topsoil that he had delivered. In twenty minutes, I was able to do what would have been hours of labor for him with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. Being able to help people out like that when opportunities arise was one of the reasons
I wanted to own a tractor. I like that it enables me to do things myself instead of hiring them out, such as driveway maintenance. And I like that it opens up a level of things that I just couldn’t do by hand, such as having much larger compost piles that would be too big to turn by hand. Also, let’s not leave out that tractors are just plain fun. Every time I’m up there rumbling around, I feel like a kid. I probably wouldn’t feel that way if I had grown up on a farm and been forced to do chores with a tractor, but I didn’t.
How often do you use your tractor?
I have had the tractor now for about four months, and it has a little over forty hours on it. So about ten hours a month.
Tell us about your property.
My partner, our son, and I live on about 2.5 acres, of which maybe 1 acre is wooded and the rest is cleared. Our home is log construction, which makes the interior pretty unusual: very little drywall and lots of exposed beams and wood paneling. It took a bit of getting used to when I first moved in, but it’s grown on me. And the R-value of the log exterior walls is awesome in the summer and the winter. We also have a two-story pole barn with a single horse stall, which is where I keep the tractor. I contemplated just storing it outside, but I didn’t like the thought of it being out all day in the sun and the rain. I’ve added a few small things, like a shed for the pigs and a chicken coop.
Tell us about your vehicles.
We own an ’05 Dodge Ram 2500 diesel truck that does a lot of the hauling and towing. We used to own a 1500, but found ourselves running up against its capacity limits pretty regularly, so when it started to have some issues with underbelly rust, I took that as an excuse to sell it and upgrade.
Ironically, the 2500’s actual cargo capacity is not significantly greater than the 1500’s was, but its towing capacity is much more, and that’s worth a lot. The trailer is a 16’ dual-axle, 7000 lb GVWR utility trailer. One main use for the truck and trailer is hauling firewood, as we heat our home exclusively with wood in the winter. We also go to several Burning Man regional events throughout the year, which can involve trailering several thousand pounds of materiel, depending on what we’re doing at the event.
Do you have any pets?
We have one cat currently, which we have had since she was a kitten. We used to have another one, but she passed recently. Once our son gets to be 2 or 3 years old, my partner insists that we will get a dog too. I’m sure I’ll like the dog just fine, but I’m more of a cat person myself. Still, there’s something to be said for a pet that you can wrestle with.
What sort of modifications or customization have you done to your tractor?
Very little so far. I kept losing the spring-style cotter pins off the back of my tractor, so I replaced them all with the bend-type pins. I’m pretty sure they won’t get pulled out, although others have advised me that they may be too brittle and may break off. So far so good, though. I also added a tool box to the location behind the seat. There are some bolts there that seem tailor-made for the purpose, although the tool box does get in the way of where the SMV sign would go if I had one.
I am considering adding lights to the ROPS because the headlights are just useless when the FEL is attached. Once I learn to weld a bit better, I may also put some hooks on my bucket. I also would really like to build a ballast box with hitch, to help with moving my trailer around. TBN has been a real help in researching all of these modifications.
What sort of tools, attachments or equipment do you use with your tractor on a regular basis?
I currently only have two attachments, so this is an easy question to answer. My main tool, and my current ballast, is a 6’ box blade. Its main uses are grading the gravel driveway as needed and reclaiming the area where we keep the pigs after they root it up and let all the topsoil wash off. The pigs leave a lot of ruts and wallows, and every time they go off Freezer Camp, I smooth the area out a bit and try to pull some of the topsoil back up the hill before I till it and re-seed it.
The other tool I use is a three-point hay spear, which I use to feed large round bales to my sheep. Being able to feed large bales whole saves a lot of labor compared to feeding small bales or loading up a feeder by hand every day or two. There is also less waste, which surprised me a bit, because I kind of expected the sheep to just tear the thing apart and leave lots of it on the ground. I think the reduced waste comes from a reduction in the amount of rotted hay that occurs when it rains. Because most of the bale is intact, only a small part of it is exposed to the rain, whereas when I was filling the feeder daily, I was constantly exposing new hay to the moisture.
I also used to own a bush-hog, which I hoped to hire out and help cover some of the cost of the tractor, but that didn’t really work out, because my trailer isn’t really up to carrying my tractor, even though its GVWR technically is enough.
I have a loader on the tractor, and it sees as much use as everything else combined. I use it to mix pig feed 200 lbs at a time and dump it into the hopper of the feeder, to turn compost piles, and of course as a general-purpose lift for anything that’s within its rated capacity.
Do you keep livestock?
We raise weaned piglets to market weight and sell them whole. Typically, we’ll do between 4 and 8 a year, in one or two batches.
Keeping pigs has been a real eye-opener. On the one hand, they are incredibly smart and personable animals. I never would have guessed what a personality they would have. I can totally see how people keep them as pets. On the other hand, they are very inquisitive and destructive, and designing fencing, shelter, and feeding/watering facilities that will stand up to their “attention” has been a real challenge. Also, they will absolutely ruin the areas we put them in, and there just doesn’t seem to be anything to do about that short of giving them a much larger area, which isn’t going to happen.
One of the best things about having pigs is that leftover food never goes to waste! You can even feed them cull chicks if you like! Once, we had a forty-pound lamb die of heat exhaustion and we even tried to get rid of it by feeding it to the pigs, but that was a little bit beyond them at the size they were.
We have three sheep—two ewes and a ram—and we sell the lambs that they produce. We tried to do rotational grazing with them, but found that our property wasn’t able to sustain them that way, and now feed them exclusively on hay (with some grazing as “treats”, but not really a significant percentage of calories).
We also have six ducks and five chickens, which we keep primarily for eggs. One of the hens keeps trying to go broody, but out of two clutches, she has hatched exactly two chicks—one per clutch. And one of them was a rooster, and hence, useless! It’s a good thing we’re not trying to run a chicken breeding operation.
What do you like/dislike about the area you live in?
I like that we are in an unincorporated area, so there are very few restrictions on what we can do on the property. At the same time, we are only about ten or fifteen minutes away from a town with all the conveniences of modern life that one could want. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, and I sometimes feel a little guilty for having it both ways.
The main thing I dislike about living here is the humidity! Boy… I moved from Atlanta, and I thought I knew humidity, but Atlanta has nothing on Knoxville. Also, all my friends still live back in Atlanta, so that can be a little difficult.
What sort of terrain is common in your area?
We are in rolling hills to the west of Knoxville. Our neighborhood is situated between two ridge-lines. There are even a few caves in the ridge adjacent to us, which is pretty cool.
What sort of trees and vegetation are common in your area?
One type of tree that is definitely worth mentioning around here is walnuts. In the spring, the walnut saplings come up like weeds, and in the fall, there are thousands of walnuts all over the ground.
Do you maintain crops?
I have about a 1000 sq. ft. garden. Occasionally, I sell some vegetables, but mostly I just raise stuff for us to eat. One thing that’s holding me back is that we don’t have a certified kitchen, so we can’t sell anything that has been processed in any way, such as pickles, jams, canned tomatoes, and so forth. We currently make less produce than we can eat, so there’s not much economic sense in selling it off vs. just eating it ourselves. Crops include tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, watermelons, cantaloupes, potatoes, onions, zucchini, and various others as the mood takes me. I would really like to branch out more into fruit production. I’ve tried to start grapes and raspberries without much success. I also would really like to try wheat, but haven’t really gotten around to it with all the other stuff I have to do.
What’s something most TractorByNet members don’t know about you?
I was one of the founding members of Alchemy: The Georgia Burn, Georgia’s Burning Man regional event. I sat on the board of directors in years two and three, and was Ranger (Security) Team Lead for years one, two, and three. Alchemy has gone on to become the largest Burning Man regional event in the U.S.