Mulching heads, brush cutters, heavy-duty mowers and other hydraulically powered attachments are very effective for converting skid steers and compact track loaders into land clearing machines. But they can also be abusive to both the equipment and its user.
When pairing a loader and attachment(s) for land clearing applications, you need to ensure the loader and attachment are not only compatible, but equipped to maximize the safety of the operator and critical machine components.
Ensure a perfect match
First, start by selecting the appropriate attachment for the task.
"Contractors should examine the specific applications where they will be working," says Justin Odegaard, Bobcat attachment product specialist. "This will help determine which attachments are best suited for their needs. For example, if the primary application is clearing brush, a rotary cutter or flail cutter would be a good choice. However, if larger trees and stumps need to be removed, then a forestry cutter attachment and stump grinder may be just what the contractor needs."
Once you understand the application and requisite attachment(s), look to your local dealer for help in making the right match between the attachment and carrier. Among important specifications are the size of the skid-steer or compact track loader, its rated operating capacity and horsepower (to match the application) and the available hydraulic flow for powering the attachment.
"Although standard-flow hydraulics will typically [work] for light or medium jobs, using an attachment with an under-powered machine will result in lower productivity," Odegaard points out. "High-flow hydraulics will provide additional horsepower to the attachment to get the job done more quickly."
Take a forestry mulcher, for example. "Our heavy-duty skid-steer forestry mulcher has a 5-ft. cutting width with the capability to handle 8-in.-diameter limbs," says Giorgio Carera, CEO, FAE USA. vNewly introduced in 2008, a variable-displacement motor gives the attachment added torque to handle the toughest jobs."
But not just any skid steer or track loader can effectively operate the attachment. "The unit requires a skid steer with at least a 90-hp rating, and high-flow hydraulics with a flow rate of 37 gpm and a pressure rating of 3,500 psi," says Carera. For contractors using an existing skid steer with a standard-flow system, FAE USA offers a cooling system mounted inside the head that maintains proper hydraulic system temperature.
The carrier must also be equipped to handle the weight of the attachment, plus anything it may be required to lift. "Heavy lifting attachments will require counterweights for better stability - for example, the use of stabilizers for removing trees," says David December, marketing manager, New Holland.
Bill Schaefer, product manager at Loftness, suggests cutting right to the chase. "My advice is to buy the biggest and most powerful loader you can when thinking about equipping the unit with a land clearing attachment," he states. "This is tough work and you don't want your productivity hindered by having an under-powered unit."
Protection inside and out
Given the potentially abusive nature of land clearing applications, several features and options are available to minimize the risk of premature component wear and tear.
"If you're trying to fit an attachment to a loader you already own - one that isn't fitted for forestry work - you will likely need to add a few options, depending on the application," says Schaefer. "One important one would be an auxiliary oil cooler to avoid overheating the hydraulic oil, ruining seals and damaging the pump and motor."
According to December, "In dusty areas, precleaners and aspirators can extend engine performance by protecting air intakes. A flow control valve will extend the life of critical hydraulic components by allowing only as much flow and pressure as required."