Whenever anyone says they just “love” snow, I always think, “They never had to get cows milked through a snowstorm.” I am not a total curmudgeon about seeing a few snowflakes, and I do think snow scenes can be pretty, but the reality is: Snow robs many hours each year because farmers have to deal with the snow as an additional chore during an already busy day.

Overbay andy
Extension Agent / Virginia Cooperative Extension
Andy Overbay holds a Ph.D. in ag education and has 40-plus years of dairy and farming experience.

While I am on a roll, I used to get a kick out of friends (especially at church) asking me if “this was my slow time.” As I recall from my dairying days, the only slow season was when I was asleep. As soon as I woke up, the speed picked right back up again.

Snow and ice meant that it took longer to get around, and you had to be extra careful about getting around, especially stepping off the tractor. Over the years, front-wheel-assist tractors have become more popular, and this really helped in the driving-around department, but there are times when a little extra help is needed or a two-wheel-drive tractor is needed to fulfill the day’s duties.

Times such as these may require the use of tractor tire chains.

Dad had chains for two tractors, our largest tractor at the time and a loader tractor; both were two-wheel-drive, ’70s-model tractors. Both were very much a part of our daily chores, so they had to start, stop and accomplish the job in between. I have to say, putting on chains was one of my most despised jobs for two reasons.


First, it meant bad weather was about to put everyone’s day into a tailspin. Second, it meant I could expect to get my kidneys beat out of me riding around on those chained tires.

When was the last time I put the chains on a tractor? I honestly don’t remember. As I mentioned, four-wheel-drive became the norm rather than the exception, so the chains got hung on the wall and probably will remain there until they rust in two pieces or the pegs they are hung on rot off. But if you are considering chains and need them, that doesn’t help a whole lot – so let’s look at tire chains.

First of all, tractor tire chains are not created equal. There are different designs for different applications, and doing your homework as to which is best for you will pay huge dividends in your satisfaction, sanity and safety.

There are three basic types of chains: ladder, duo and double-ring chains. Each type has its own strengths and weaknesses. Ladder chains, of course, look like a ladder – perimeter chains with single cross-chains at regular intervals.

These chains are best for hard surfaces, whether that would be pavement or concrete. Typically, these chains are the quietest and ride the smoothest.

Double-ring chains are configured somewhat similarly to ladder chains but are much more heavily built. They get their name from the cross-chains that feature double rings as connectors across the tread. Double-rings are good for muddy conditions, and they self-clean the easiest of the three.

Duo chains are heavily built like the double-ring models, but they have the added feature of having cross-chains “tied” together typically with two links running parallel to the perimeter chains. Duo chains are recommended for off-road use only, and they are likely the roughest riding of the three types.

The tradeoff is that duo chains offer the best traction. Since the cross-chains are connected, making two crosses into one “x chain,” the cross-chains will not slip down into the treads of the tires; therefore, you get more chain-to-ground contact with a duo system over the other chain types.

Now that you have a set of chains, how is the best way to get these rascals on? Some of the answer comes from the type of chain and the size of your tractor and its tires. Most tractor tire chains are heavy; they have to be to stand up to the pressure.

Laying them out, driving over them and connecting them like a truck or car tire chain is not handy because they are heavy, and the tread of the tires catch them as you try to lift them.

I recommend draping them over the tire so that they dangle from the tire front and rear. I also recommend offsetting the chains so that the majority of the chain hanging from the tire is to the front.

Once draped (and you may need help to get them on the tire, as they can weigh 200 pounds or more), drive forward so that the two ends are in the back of the tractor.

Connecting the chain is easier from behind simply because there is more room to maneuver and get the slack out. I connect the inside of the chains first so I can pull the slack from the chains on the outside where I can get to the chains most easily.

Tensioners can be used to help keep the chains tight, and you need to realize that as chains are used, they naturally stretch. The first time you mount the chains, you need to stop and check them for proper tension.

Tire wear will also loosen chains, of course. Loose chains can severely damage your tractor. Our poor loader tractor’s fenders and lights were a real-life testament that loose chains are tough on equipment, which brings me to my last point on chains.

Clearances between your tractor and its tires vary from model to model and from tractor to tractor. This is because tire sizes and inflations can vary almost infinitely. Check your tractor for clearances and check with your supplier before ordering to make sure the chains will fit without striking the tractor at any point. end mark

Andy Overbay holds a Ph.D. in ag education and has more than 40 years of hands-on dairy and farming experience.

Andy Overbay
  • Andy Overbay

  • Extension Agent
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension