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Garden tractor or riding lawn mower w/ XW cut?

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  • Garden tractor or riding lawn mower w/ XW cut?

    I'm about to close on a piece of property 3.2 acres with about 2 acres in pasture. Assuming that the ONLY thing I need to do is bushhog/mow (i.e., assume no critters for foreseeable future), do I need to get a small garden tractor or can I get away with a riding lawn mower with an extra-wide cutting blade like 50" or 54"? I've been looking (for example) at the John Deere X series and the equivalent Husquvarnas.

    Thanks for any advice/comments!
    "The standard you walk by is the standard you accept."--Lt. Gen. David Morrison, Austalian Army Chief

  • #2
    I guess I would go with the bigger tractor, and consider getting a pull-behind mower or brush hog tool. Lawn mowers don't usually allow you to mow high enough for pasture grasses and keep it ABOVE the rocks! Mowing taller grasses and weeds, can choke a nice riding mower, but not even slow down a brush hog or higher mower you can set to cut high.

    You will need a PTO (power take off) on the towing vehicle to run a brush hog. With the hitch-on pull mower, like a Swisher, you don't need the PTO because motors on the mower are the power for cutting. You could also pull it with an ATV kind of vehicle, or a truck! They have improved these mowers since they first came out, so they are easier to use, more adaptable for REAL mowing of large areas that may not be groomed lawns.

    I would really look around, shop some other brands besides JD. They do make good equipment, but I have found that service AFTER sale can be "difficult" to say the least. Maybe you could find something used, not very old, low hours, in a slightly more powerful machine for your needs. I can't say enough about the benefits of a front-end loader. Even a garden tractor sized loader is WAY better than hand shoveling for home uses, like driveway gravel or mulching the trees in the yard, smoothing out that gravel or ruts! Will ALSO haul manure instead of using a muck tub, to save lifting or pulling!

    We found a real bargin in a Kabota tractor, which included a brush hog and finish mower, heard about other folks having the same good luck as they hunted for equipment. We took our time looking, were a bit flexible on size, age, hours, but had a strict budget to work with. In good time, we lucked into finding Katy Kabota and I LOVE her, has a great work ethic. Husband says Orange is a nice color!!

    Having a shopping list will help keep you from looking at stuff that not going to suit your needs. Mowing big areas needs a machine capable of going over rougher ground, having enough power to run the mower if it uses the PTO. So a bit more horsepower in the engine is a better deal. Is the ground to mow flatter or rolling or even hilly? You may also need a Roll-Over Protection bar and a seat belt on that machine to stay safe.

    Hope the closing on property goes smoothly and Congrats on having your own place!!


    • #3
      I have a John Deer GT-235 (18 hp) with the 54" mower deck. For the first seven summers, I used it to keep probably 5 to 7 acres around the house, barn, and arena, and along all the fences mowed. Now that we have a 7' finish mower for the tractor, I just use it for the parts of the front approximately 10 acres of our property that aren't accessible to the tractor (edging, around trees, etc.).

      IME, a riding lawn mower should be perfectly fine for what you described. If any areas you want to mow are rougher, raise the mower deck and slow down. NBD.


      • #4
        In my case, it's a question of time spent mowing. I have two rather small riding JD lawn mowers that cut beautifully, but they are just too small to do my pastures. It's not a question of width of cut, but rather the Power going to the mower. My small compact tractor is 28 hp, but the bushhog type mower is direct drive off the pto and will power through things that make the belt driven mowers slip. So with the bush hog, there is no need to go back and redo the cut. With the lawn mowers, I find myself doing a lot of double cutting these days.

        I only wish my tractor were a bit bigger and had a front loader.
        "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
        Thread killer Extraordinaire


        • #5
          We have 5 acres and bought the smallest Kubota tractor with belly mower, and front end loader. The loader is a HUGE help for thing that you never even realize. We also bought a sprayer that mounts to it. BUT we used to mow it with a Cub Cadet, big riding mower and it worked just fine. But I would lean toward a small tractor if you budget allows it.


          • Original Poster

            Well, I can get a used, high-hours, OLD small tractor or a spanky new JD (with that awesome discount you get with your USEF membership!) lawn mower.

            It's not *just* price that makes me think riding lawn mower, it's the fact that it's on very low-lying ground, in a mountain valley, and it's naturally irrigated from a spring-fed pond as well, so I fear even the extra weight of a small tractor might chew the grass up more than is necessary. (No rocks BTW.)
            "The standard you walk by is the standard you accept."--Lt. Gen. David Morrison, Austalian Army Chief


            • #7
              My small tractor has turf tires. They limit its pulling power, but they do not chew up turf. There are things called Commercial Tires that are not as aggressive as Ag tires, but give better traction than turf tires.
              "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
              Thread killer Extraordinaire


              • #8
                You want something that does not have the mower permanently attached to the underside of the mower. Learn from my mistake on that. Get a small garden tractor with the most powerful engine you can afford. Then buy the mower attachment to use for mowing.

                I prefer John Deere. but others like the kubota small garden tractor.


                • #9
                  I've never heard anyone say they wished that they had a smaller mower.


                  • #10
                    Hate to say it, Tom, but the thought of a smaller mower deck crossed my mind several times yesterday! Especially when I was distracted by a sudden rain shower and accidentally lopped off a baby shrub while missing a tree on the other side. Sigh.

                    OP, the math is relatively straightforward. Yes, it will take you longer to mow with a smaller engine because you cannot drive as fast and still get a good cut. However, you're also talking about a pretty small area (I mowed more than your whole property yesterday with my JD), where 'slower' on the straightaways should translate into minutes per week. What's that worth to you? There's also the issue of maintenance (how much, cost, etc), where larger is more expensive and older generally means more frequent and costly repairs, in addition to original overall purchase price. For example, I bought both my garden tractor and 'real' Kubota tractor brand-spankin' new 9 years ago because I was a single woman who didn't want to make a lot of repairs.


                    • #11
                      Go as big as you can. You won't regret it.

                      That said, I do my 3.5 acres (very flat, old farmland, no real rocks) with my JD riding mower.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Tom King View Post
                        I've never heard anyone say they wished that they had a smaller mower.
                        ... unless they have hills or trees. I started with a 72" mower on a tractor and have added a 36" then a 21" walk behind to try to do hard bits without sliding off the hills. I'm currently coveting a 6 wheel drive 72" hill mower, as buying smaller mowers for the steep parts has not really solved my problem. I'm sure a giant batwing would be nice for the fields but that's not what takes up the bulk of my mowing time.

                        To the OP, your plan seems reasonable, as long as the place is currently fairly well maintained and you are going to keep it that way. A garden ride on for a routine mow of a relatively flat field should be fine. If it needs bringing back from overgrown, or you intend to let it look like a meadow and only mow long grass a few times a year consider a bigger tractor with a brush hog. Lawn mowers really don't like long grass. You'd need to go very slowly and make multiple passes.


                        • #13
                          If you are comparing different lawn mowers in your chosen power/price range, look at height adjustment. You probably don't want to mow your fields lawn short, so all else being equal pick the taller one.


                          • #14
                            First, it comes down to how much money you have/want to spend. Second, you’re only talking 3+ acres. We cut 5-8 acres around the house, barn, paddock paths, road frontage, etc with a 54 inch Cub Cadet, 27 hp. But it was bought at Lowes on sale for around $2,500 8 years ago. It is not a “true” Cub the ones sold at big box stores are manufactured to fit a price model and are not built nearly was well as the ones made by Cub Cadet. I believe the same is true for JD’s. If there is a problem you can not bring it to a local Cub service for warranty work. You have to use who ever Lowes, Home Depot, has a contract with. I found this out after the fact and the place I had to take mine to was useless. If I wasn’t a decent mechanic with a shop on my farm this thing would have spent more time being sent out to be fixed then mowing. The engine runs strong and has never given me a problem. It cuts thick high grass with little effort. The rest of it I have had to weld, and MacGyver to keep it mowing. I did find it slow but figured out how to increase the ground speed a bit.
                            The only problem with mowing paddocks with a garden tractor is the fact that most can only mow at 4 inches or so. Where as it is best to mow horse paddocks around 6”. But if you only have a horse or 2 which is really all 2 acres may support without turning into dirt and weeds I wouldn’t worry too much about the difference. You may be able to get a little extra lift by slightly over inflating the tires.
                            A wider mower deck is only of value if you have the horse power to back it up. Though better engineered models may get more bang for the buck from lower HP. Be sure to compare ground speed IMO the faster the better. Everyone goes slower when first using the mower but once comfortable and you figure out the most efficient way to get the job done you will go at top speed most of the time. Especially wide open paddock/lawns. When I find the money I will replace my Cub with a gently used commercial Zero Turn or a used golf course mower. My brother in law found a 12’ fairway mower in excellent condition for $7,500 for his farm. Very jealous. The blades are turned by hydraulics with 4 decks. So you can turn off and fold up 2 decks which gives 72 inches to mow with in tighter areas


                            • Original Poster

                              Originally posted by Tom King View Post
                              I've never heard anyone say they wished that they had a smaller mower.
                              Yeah, but that's KIND OF a "boys and their toys" thang IMO! Me, I'm looking to spend the least I can spend (for now) without having to be out there ALL afternoon with a 40" deck.

                              I get it about HP as well, but it seems like some of the higher-end mowers have more HP than some of the lower-end garden tractors, unless I'm misreading or misunderstanding how each machine uses that horsepower.

                              Thanks for all the help so far!
                              "The standard you walk by is the standard you accept."--Lt. Gen. David Morrison, Austalian Army Chief


                              • #16
                                You want that extra horsepower, because the machine has to share it between the mower part and the speed it can attain while mowing. So lower horsepower is going to mean you will be driving slower, because the machine is using the horsepower to mow the grass. Shutting off the mower section, SHOULD redirect that horsepower back so it can be used for a bit more speed.

                                I never thought having a bigger tractor was part of the Boys game, in comparing "machine toy" sizes. Bigger tractor lets me work easier, not straining the machine to get work done if the going is heavy or hard. Working your machine at the top end of it's capacity will shorten the work life, not leave you any extra for "heavy" parts of a job. Like having enough truck pulling the trailer to manage the loaded weight in ANY condition, mountains, wind, being able to STOP that loaded trailer FAST. I have such a truck, which means no worries when hauling.

                                Heck, I use a push mower with motor to do my fair sized (but not acres big) yard with, so you can't say THAT is a big toy! I would have a pretty hard time mowing with a rider, since my yard is so cut up with shrubbery and garden beds. I have a lot of narrow spaces to fit between while cutting yard grass. Doing pasture mowing, paddocks, I want a bigger width, power with height adjustment above a 6" cutting level and some speed to get the job DONE to move on to other things like RIDING the horses or picking flowers.

                                So you really should consider this stuff too, in your vision of the "affordable, perfect" machine for your budget. We may joke about Boy's Toys, but sometimes they have good reasons for their choices we need to look closer at.


                                • #17
                                  I have a 20 HP JD GX-255 with hydrostatic drive and can easily mow my hilly tree-infested 2+ acres in a little over two hours. The hydraulic drive saves a lot of time and effort that would otherwise be involved in changing gears.

                                  If you consider a used JD with the Hydrostatic drive, look through the back of the mower at the top driveshaft on the transmission. There's a small white plastic fan and the blades are easily broken by sticks that slip upwards over the mower deck. If it's missing blades, the transmission can overheat under heavy loads.
                                  The inherent vice of Capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.
                                  Winston Churchill


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Oooh THANK YOU Frank, that one looks good! What size cutting deck do you have? The 54"?
                                    "The standard you walk by is the standard you accept."--Lt. Gen. David Morrison, Austalian Army Chief


                                    • #19
                                      If you choose to go with a mower rather than a tractor, choose commercial quality rather than the regular joe quality mower. It will be able to handle more hard handling than what you get at the big box stores.

                                      Also if you are going to get a mower, consider getting a zero turn, or at least one that has a close to zero turn radius, this is also a major time saver. I have the commercial quality Husquavarna 52" zero turn mower with a Kawasaki engine. It can cut grass very short, or leave it as tall as 6". If I don't let the grass get over 8"-10" tall, I can cut with no problems. I generally cut my grass to 4" (non yard areas) and cut before it reaches 6".


                                      • Original Poster

                                        Originally posted by jawa View Post
                                        Also if you are going to get a mower, consider getting a zero turn, or at least one that has a close to zero turn radius, this is also a major time saver. I have the commercial quality Husquavarna 52" zero turn mower with a Kawasaki engine. It can cut grass very short, or leave it as tall as 6". If I don't let the grass get over 8"-10" tall, I can cut with no problems. I generally cut my grass to 4" (non yard areas) and cut before it reaches 6".
                                        Thanks!! What's the model number of yours? I'm still madly comparison shopping.
                                        "The standard you walk by is the standard you accept."--Lt. Gen. David Morrison, Austalian Army Chief