Your tractor is the most important aspect to consider when buying a flail arm. Stability and safety rely on the right hedgecutter being married up to the tractor that will be used to do the work. A big cutter fitted to a small tractor is heading for problems. It could result in damage to the tractor and may cause the tractor to tip over, with potentially fatal consequences for the operator.
At one time, side-arm flail cutters and mowers would have been matched to the tractor in terms of available horsepower, but the advent of the high-powered compact tractor means this is no longer appropriate. Nowadays, the first thing to consider is the tractor’s weight. Stability is paramount and cannot be emphasised enough. Do not just consider the tractor’s lifting capacity. Its actual weight is key to a successful tractor-cutter partnership.
Once the tractor’s specification has been fully appreciated — and its potential or limitations accepted — you can then look at the type of work you intend to undertake and the sort of locations you will encounter.
The sites you expect to work should be analysed in terms of the need to reach over fences, across ditches and around telegraph poles to cut the vegetation. These obstacles will determine the sort of reach needed from the equipment but you must accept that the limiting factor may be your tractor. Perhaps it is time to buy a bigger, heavier model?
There are small hedgecutters for use on compact tractors but much of the development work is focused on larger units with longer reach.
Last year, Twose of Tiverton launched the TS585 trimmer with a 5.85m reach. It is suitable for tractors over 85hp and weighing over 3,250kg. For tractors of 70hp and weighing over 4,500kg, McConnel has introduced the PA6500T with 6.5m reach and a mowing speed of over 19km/h.
It might also be worth thinking about using prime movers other than tractors. McConnel, for example, offers a truck-mounted hedge and verge trimmer. It doesn’t take a mathematician to appreciate that a vehicle capable of 70mph between jobs is going to save time where sites are some distance apart.
The other important factor when looking at the hedges is the standard of finish that will be expected. Flail cutters do a good job on farm hedges, such as hawthorn, and on roadside verges. But if your requirement is to trim yards of privet — and providing you have no need to mow grass with the unit — you might find that a reciprocating-bladed cutter will give the best results.
You should also consider the frequency and duration of use. Many would-be flail-arm owners have plans to take in work additional to their own needs and even seek verge-cutting work locally. It is important to appreciate the duration of the work. These machines come with varying levels of controls. Some types will be more friendly on the hands and reduce operator fatigue. You would be wise to choose the best options where long hours of use are anticipated.
There is a special term for the constant twisting of the head that results from trying to keep an eye on the implement from the rear window of the tractor. It’s called neck cranking — and it can be painful.
Long hours of work can be made more comfortable by opting for a mid-mounted or front-mounted cutter. Some manufacturers offer specialist equipment that serves to place the cutter head alongside the tractor cab.
One of the latest developments from McConnel is the Midcut Pack for its Power Arm 55 “forward reach” cutting head, while Bomford has a new forward arm version of its five-metre and 5.5m Falcon flail mowers.
Manufacturers should ask you for details about your tractor, type of work, sites and frequency of use, so be sure you have the information to hand when you enquire about the products and services available.
You should also spend time thinking about other uses for the side-arm unit — many of the new machines are power units in their own right and can be fitted with other attachments, such as ditch cleaners, to extend their use.
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