Field Mowers Buyer's Guide

How to choose the right field mower to keep your grassy acres in good shape.

| May/June 2015

Grasslands and pastures look like they’d be simple to maintain, but depending on where you live, keeping your open acres open and free of weeds can take serious planning and management. Even if you use animals to help harvest the forages on those areas, you will do well to employ the help of a couple of tools, in addition to prescribed burning and other strategies. No matter how large or small your open acreage, there are tools sized perfectly to the task at hand — and to your budget.

Whet your scythe

In this day of power equipment and plentiful petroleum, it’s easy to overlook the scythe and other hand-powered tools to keep your field mowed. However, if you only have an acre or two to keep looking great, and you already have a gym membership or are thinking of purchasing one, the scythe may be for you. Scythes come in a couple of different patterns — my favorite is the European or Austrian style, which is sharp, effective and light. The alternative is the American style, which is heavier, less prone to damage if you attempt to split a rock with it, and arguably might cut through slightly heavier brush without complaining.

In both cases, be sure to get a scythe with a snath (handle) that’s fit to your build, or one that’s fully adjustable. Watch a couple of videos on the process and get ready to mow. Even though I no longer use the scythe to make loose hay, I do use the tool to cut weeds in pasture corners and the garden at the end of the season, and whenever I just don’t want to fire up a machine to mow the road ditch.

Rotary cutters

Often called the brush hog or bush hog (trade name Bush Hog), these rough country mowers come in a range of sizes and capabilities, but they all consist of a vertically oriented spindle(s) that spins the often-hinged horizontal blades to get the cutting accomplished. Many have a heavy steel pan below the spindle hub that facilitates the mower riding up over stumps and other high spots, rather than driving the blades into them — which is easier on the blades, spindle and you, the operator.

If you just have a few acres to maintain, you might consider the walk-behind rotary cutter — sometimes called field and brush mowers. Depending on the model and brand, these self-propelled machines can knock down 6-foot-tall grass and reeds with relative ease and can motor their way through brushy patches where stems are generally not more than 21⁄2 inches or so. The downside to these machines relates to the relatively narrow cut — around 2 feet wide — so it can take you a while to trim up a few acres. The upside is that they are often powered with what amounts to a two-wheeled tractor that you can use for tilling, grading and many other homestead tasks on a relatively small scale.

If you already own an ATV or UTV, then you might go one step further and source a self-powered, tow-behind rotary cutter. These are available from a number of manufacturers and have cutting widths up to 5 feet or more. They may also be able to mow through brush with the occasional 3-inch-diameter trunk. These mowers will have their own engine, and the best of them have adjustable hitch systems so you can offset the mower to the left or right of the tow vehicle, which may not seem like much, but will make it so you don’t have to drive through the uncut weeds.

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