Could one machine combine the best features of a skid loader with those of a high-end utility vehicle? That's what I hoped to find out when the local Bobcat dealer dropped off a test model of the new Toolcat 5600 at our farm.

A quick assessment of the controls looked promising. Levers and the joystick appeared to offer easy control of auxiliary hydraulic functions for different attachments, such as a grapple fork, scraper, bale spear or posthole digger — all from inside an air-conditioned cab.

Mobility

It took only a few turns in the yard to get used to the handling. All-wheel mode allows the Toolcat to turn in a tight 204-in. diameter. That's still not as short as the turning radius of a skid loader, but it is a huge improvement over that of utility vehicles or compact tractors.

Top speed in high range is about 18 mph. In low range, the Toolcat tops out at about 10 mph. The dash also includes a cruise-control button to allow the operator to set a desired speed.

Task master

There's impressive hydraulic capacity front and back. Flipping a rocker switch smoothly raises and lowers the 2,000-lb.-capacity cargo box. The Toolcat's “tool” end on the front is rated at 1,500 lbs. I probably exceeded the listed operating capacity by 500 lbs. while lifting some of my biggest round bales. Although getting those too-heavy bales off the ground wasn't a problem, the hydraulics weren't able to tilt the bale spear to help center the weight. Most bales wouldn't be a problem.

In crab-steer mode, the Toolcat could get into locations with round bales for bedding that a loader tractor couldn't. We also were able to use the boom to shake out the bedding, flip the transmission into high range and get back with a second bale in no time. That was a big plus over a skid loader.

In the bunker silo, the Toolcat was agile enough to remove silage from the pile, fill the bucket and still maneuver to the TMR wagon in tight quarters. It takes a 12-point turn to do that with a tractor and loader. If the lift height of the boom were higher, the Toolcat would be a great replacement for a skid loader in this role.

The Toolcat let us pile brush with a pallet fork out front and then load firewood into the cargo box behind. Traction was no problem. We typically use a skid loader to do the brush work and then a Kawasaki Mule to retrieve the firewood. The Toolcat did both jobs extremely well.

Handling mid-size square bales was a breeze. Two bales more or less hit the rated lifting capacity, but the Toolcat handled them with ease. The view from the cab is great. It was easy to drive up to the bales, spear them, flip the transmission into reverse and move the bales.

Shortfall

Vertical reach of the boom tops out at 84 in. That meant the boom wouldn't quite reach into my TMR wagon to dump feed. If the reach were extended by only 6 in., I'd consider trading both my skid loader and my Kawasaki Mule for a Toolcat. At a suggested list price of about $29,500, the Toolcat would have to replace two machines to justify itself. A list price of about $7,500 to $10,000 less would put a lot of Toolcats into operation on farms around the country. One of them would be mine.

For more information, contact Bobcat Co., Dept. FIN, 250 E. Beaton Dr., West Fargo, ND 58078, 701/241-8700, visit www.bobcat.com/toolcat or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin.