by Tom Hover
March 27, 2012

Which mulching method is right for you?

If you want to add vegetation management and mulching to your site prep capabilities, first decide what type of equipment will best meet your needs—a mulching attachment or purpose-built mulching tractor. This decision depends on what you will be mulching, what equipment you already have, your production demands and your budget. 

Mulching Attachments 

Mulching attachments can provide cost savings since they can be used on your existing equipment, such as skid steers, larger tracked carriers, excavators and power takeoff (PTO) tractors. To decide what type of mulching attachment to use, consider your preferences and needs. 

Skid-steer attachments apply less ground pressure and do not typically rut the soil, making them ideal for environmentally-sensitive areas. These nimble machines also process around existing vegetation without damaging keeper trees. Given the popularity of both skid steers and the mulching attachments available for them, connecting attachments to skid steers has never been easier, and attachments can easily be moved to the jobsite. 

Before choosing an attachment, consider the size and type of material you need to mulch. Skid-steer mulcher attachments work best for lighter vegetation—underbrush, limbs and standing trees from 4 to 6 inches in diameter. These models can also tackle the occasional 6- to 8-inch diameter trees. 

Mulcher attachments can also be used with larger agricultural and utility tractors in both hydraulic and PTO drives. With higher horsepower, these handle larger diameter materials, cut a wider swath with each pass and typically process materials faster than smaller models. But they can be more difficult to transport given their larger size.

Attachments can be used with most excavators. With greater reach, they allow clearing in ditches, ravines and other areas that can be difficult to reach with a tracked carrier. They can process larger diameter materials more than skid-steer mounted mulchers, and given the length of the stick-arms, they can clear vegetation from above. 

Adding a mulching attachment can increase the utility of an existing machine while adding greater processing capabilities. This can mean keeping more cash for projects because less work will be farmed out. 

When choosing a mulching attachment, be sure you meet all machine requirements. A main concern should be the horsepower and hydraulic capacity available to power the mulcher. Mulching attachments require high-flow hydraulic systems. Those designed for skid steers that feature a working width of 61 inches require a hydraulic capacity of 24 to 45 gpm. 

Carriers delivering flow at the lower end of that range will be less productive than those delivering flow closer to the 45-gpm maximum. Other carrier functions may also be negatively affected when operating at the low end of the hydraulic range. Severe-duty mulching heads are also available. These heavier models work well in challenging environments and handle a higher flow rate of up to 65 gpm.

Hydraulically-powered mulcher attachments for larger tractors/carriers equipped with a high-flow hydraulic system are also available with a 61-inch working width. They have similar flow requirements—between 27 gpm and 65 gpm. 

Purpose-Built Mulching Tractors 

A purpose-built mulching tractor usually works better for land clearing and site prep applications due to the added productivity from hydraulic flows and horsepower designed into the machine. Some mulching tractors can monitor the load and augment it with additional power precisely when needed, which increases performance. 

This variable speed motor option allows the mulcher to adjust the rotor speed and torque to improve recovery time and productivity. Higher rotor speed and more bites per second can be achieved when mulching small diameter material with less resistance. When you process larger diameter material and encounter heavier resistance, the motor shifts to a larger displacement for greater torque to enable longer staying power on the rotor. 

Designed with comfort in mind, larger cabs will maximize operator performance. Loader arms feature quick-attach couplers to provide versatility for multifunctional work with other optional attachments including a tree shear, stump grinder and front grapple. An optional rear winch is also available for skidding logs, among other tasks. 

Multiple track options are available to suit particular jobsite requirements, including steel cross-links reinforced with rubber for low ground pressure. Rigid mount steel tracks in single or triple grouser shoes are also available in several widths to meet any ground conditions.   

Purpose-built mulchers also feature easy access to service points and filters, which reduce the time spent on machine maintenance allowing more time for productive labor. A trap door helps contain debris and achieve finer sizing. This eliminates the need for a second pass and increases the finished product’s aesthetic. 

Purpose-built mulching tractors come in sizes that meet most application requirements—from 100 to 600 horsepower.  Higher horsepower models carry wider mulchers, which mean fewer passes will be required to complete projects. Increased horsepower also allows larger diameter materials to be processed.

Mulching can be a great way to extend your site prep capabilities and keep more profit for each job. Carefully consider the numerous options when deciding between a mulching attachment and  a purpose-built mulching tractor. 

Websites that feature videos of equipment in action provide a testament to machine capability, and demo units may also be available to showcase capabilities on your site. The manufacturer or dealer may provide a reference list using similar carrier and attachment combinations. When in doubt, ask the manufacturer and equipment dealer questions. Armed with the right information, the selection process will become simple. 

With attachments to fit all sizes of skid steers, excavators and prime movers, a “one-man-one-machine” can be a profitable, productive and sustainable way to manage all types of vegetation.

If the existing skid steer has the proper hydraulic flow available, then a mulching attachment can allow general contractors to process 4- to 6 inch-diameter materials with minimal investment.    

Look for a mulcher that will automatically increase rotor speed in light brush and deliver more torque in heavy loads.  

Questions to Consider

What you will be mulching?

What equipment do you already own that can be used with a mulching attachment?

What is your budget?

Where will you be working?

What is your equipment’s horsepower and hydraulic capacity?

What specific jobsite requirements do you have?