Designed to cover the ground quickly and give a level of productivity unmatched by other grass cutting machinery, tractor-mounted mowers are a good choice where large areas require mowing. On sports grounds, playing fields, parks and open spaces, wide-area mowers will give by far the lowest mowing cost per square metre per year.
But should you opt for the classic cylinder gang mower or turn to the rotary for results? Will a giant bat-wing be most efficient? Should you consider a flail mower? The choice is vast but there are four essential points to consider — required finish, topography, site access and towing vehicle.
Traditionally, the cylinder gang-mower has been the first choice for sites needing a first-class finish. Using the same cutting principle as the walk-behind
cylinder-mower but with larger-diameter reels, they can be trailed or direct-mounted to the tractor and usually comprise three, five or seven cylinders. Some nine-gang units are also available.
You will find that trailed equipment driven by land-wheels is cheapest to buy. It is also quick to hitch, easy to use and has a lever-operated clutch to engage and disengage the cutters.
Trailed machines that take the power from the tractor PTO will cost a bit more, while the most expensive are the tractor- or direct-mounted gang mowers. The latter have the advantage of allowing the units to be raised and lowered while moving, making them more manoeuvrable and enabling narrow working widths to be adopted if required. And because the hydraulic motor on each cutter can be set to give the best cylinder speed, a range of cuts can be attained to suit most sites and conditions.
Where only the finest cut will do, the cylinder cannot be bettered. But there is a downside. Regular sharpening of the reels and bed knives is necessary to maintain best performance from these machines — and they have many metres of edge to be kept sharp. Damaged blades not only affect the quality of finish, but can also affect the balance of the machine, putting strain on other parts, and the poorly cut grass blades are left vulnerable to infection.
With the cost of mower servicing continuing to rise, plus a tendency to leave grass a little longer to help drought tolerance, we are now seeing rotary and flail mowers increasingly used on amenity and sports turf.
There is a big choice of rear-mounted rotaries. They are usually attached to the three-point linkage and supported by castor wheels. Most single-deck, rear-mounted rotary mowers are height limited by chains, enabling them to float over undulations, but there are also a number of gang-rotaries available. Offered in sets of three, five or seven, these are articulated to follow contours without scalping. The huge bat-wing machines, with working widths up to 7m or 8m, are designed to race through mowing tasks on level ground and are often seen mowing multiple-pitch sites and airfields.
In the past couple of years, there has been significant development in “flexible” wing mowers but, with contractors expecting to get more out of each machine, the biggest area of development and interest is currently flail mowers. These benefit from being able to tackle a variety of tasks, from amenity grass to rough vegetation. They are also easy and cheap to maintain. Hit a hidden stone or a half-buried bicycle and the flails may well escape unharmed, while any that are damaged can be replaced quickly and cheaply.
Flail mowers with collectors offer even more advantages. Not only do they provide the opportunity for a cut and collection operation, but most will convert to scarifiers or sweepers.
The Super 500, from Renfrew-based Wiedenmann UK, is one of the latest flail-collectors, while Ryetec of Yorkshire has increased the year-round versatility of its model with a seeder attachment.
Mowing level ground, such as winter sports pitches, usually presents few problems, but undulating ground means avoiding the problems of scalping the high ground and failing to mow the hollows. On undulating ground, choose equipment with floating heads or articulating units.
As well as knowing the type and size of machine best suited to the job, you also need to ensure it matches the size and power of your tractor. If you are working on several sites in different locations, it is also important to find out the transport width of the machine.
And remember — the best buying decisions are usually made after you have seen a demonstration of the equipment or tried it out for yourself.
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