Finish Mower or Rough Cut Mower: Do You Need Both?

Let’s Explore the Pros and Cons of Finish Mowers vs. Rough Cut Mowers

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Brushhog cutter attached to tractor (Daniel Johnson)

A finish mower is a great tool for keeping a well-maintained lawn looking awesome, but not every farm field is ready for the manicured treatment that it provides. That’s where rough cut mowers come into play, and many farmers need both to keep their land tidy and clear of brush.

So what are the differences between both mowers? Let’s define both types and explore their pros and cons:

What is a finish mower?

A finish mower is designed to cleanly cut well-maintained grassy fields to short heights—under eight inches or so. Your typical riding lawn mower or zero-turn mower can be considered a finish mower, but when people use the term, they’re usually referring to a wide mower that is attached and towed behind or mounted to the three-point hitch of a larger tractor. Some can be more than a dozen feet wide, allowing you to quickly mow large areas.

Finish mower pros and cons

The obvious advantage of a finish mower is the tidy job it does cutting short grass. If you desire picturesque fields of rolling grass—the perfect pastureland—this will help make your dreams reality.

But this precision comes with limitations. Woody plants and overly tall or thick grass can choke or damage the blades of a finish mower. It’s not the right machine for going off the beaten path to clear overgrown fields. That’s the domain of a rough-cut mower.

What is a rough-cut mower?

A rough-cut mower (you might call it a brush hog, bush hog, brush mower, or field mower) isn’t designed to tidily mow short grass. Typically towed behind or mounted to a three-point hitch, a rough cut mower is built to plunge through overgrown fields hacking down tall and thick grass, woody brush, and—in some cases—even sapling trees. Comparatively, a rough-cut mower can seem almost indestructible.

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You might think, “Wow, the blades on a rough-cut mower must be sharp to slice through trees.” Actually, the opposite is true. A rough-cut mower features thick, dull blades that bash through obstacles with sheer momentum. They can take a lot of hits while suffering minimal damage.

Rough-cut mower pros and cons

The upsides of a rough-cut mower are obvious. If a farm field has been abandoned for a few years and is overgrown with tall grass, brush, and small trees, mowing everything down with a rough-cut mower is a great first step to restoring the field to service.

On the downside though, a rough-cut mower lives up to its name and generates a rough cut. It’s not a precision instrument meant for manicuring grassy lawns and pastures. You might say it leaves the job unfinished, and you need to pair both mowers to achieve the best results. But before you tackle a second pass with a finish mower, you’ll need to clean up the worst of the debris the rough-cut mower left behind. Sapling trees don’t just pulverize into dust (though a rough-cut mower gives it a good try), and you don’t want to damage your finish mower by hitting hacked-off stumps or pieces of tree trunks.

If your farm fields are in good condition and you have the time to mow them regularly, a finish mower might be all you need. But for restoring abandoned fields, or for cutting back fields in which the grass has gotten too tall, you’ll want to have a rough cut mower on hand.

This article was written for Hobby Farms magazine online. Click here to subscribe.

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