Blade? Loader? Blower? What's the Best Option for Snow Removal

Blade? Loader? Blower? What's the Best Option for Snow Removal

Snow removal on an acreage lane can be challenging, particularly during and after a big winter storm. Unless your pick-up has a blade, most equipment is tractor-mounted. Choosing equipment that's most effective for snow removal often depends on the size and type of tractor, or other unit powering the equipment.

Other things being equal, the reduced mechanical complexity of a blade is less costly than a blower. Blades are typically associated with units larger than a lawn-mower type tractor. Front-end loader equipment costs may be in- between those of blades and blowers although the cost of a loader is often shared by other uses.

Are there other needs for a small tractor (and perhaps front-end loader) such as tilling, planting, or livestock chores on the acreage? Access to an inexpensive older tractor with a rollover protective structure (ROPS) allows the use of blade with an existing three-point hitch. A front-end loader may already be required for moving manure or feed for livestock. In addition, many acreage owners find a front-end loader saves back-breaking work with other tasks.

Downsides to using a larger tractor than needed for acreage operations include the initial cost and long-term maintenance. Acreage owners often have more than enough internal combustion engines to maintain. Adding an inexpensive older tractor can generate significant repair and maintenance costs (filters, tires, fluid changes, etc.). A tractor without ROPS should generate a ‘red flag' for use, particularly on slick and uneven surfaces. If you have other uses for a larger tractor (e.g., 30 hp or greater) using a blade or loader is economical if you've got places to push the snow. Leaving a part of a snow pile on a right-of-way is hazardous for traffic. Blades are available as an attachment on the front of some loaders rather than mounting the blade on the rear of the tractor.

If acreage needs are smaller and mainly for lawn mowing and snow removal, a larger lawn-mower type tractor (around 20 hp) is often more economical even though a blower rather than a blade-attachment is needed for significant amounts of snow removal. The blower will more easily direct where snow is deposited than a blade.

Use safety in any snow removal operation.

  • Consider tractor and vehicle stability on slick surfaces.

  • Stop power to the blower and engine before attempting to clean the discharge.

  • Maintain the engine so it can easily re-start after cleaning.

  • Don't get under a hydraulically supported loader without mechanically blocking it first. 

By Mark Hanna, Iowa State University Extension Ag Engineer