Brush Hogging 101 – Everything You Need to Know

Two types of brush hogs connected to tractors
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Maintaining quality pastures and hay fields, as well as “grubbing” wooded survival homesteads to create more grazing and gardening space requires diligent tending to the land.

Brush hogging livestock areas and woodlots is the primary way to rid the area of weeds that choke out grass growth, and to clear the land for agricultural use.

Before we go any further, we need to clear up the confusion between the terms brush hog and bush hog. While the terms are often used interchangeably (and that is fine) Bush Hog is actually a brand name for one type of manufactured equipment used to brush hog.

Depending upon where you live it is likely you hear folks refer to pasture cutting or land clearing by saying they are either going to “bush hog” or “brush hog” the area.

Use whatever phrase that best suits you or is common where you live. But if the need for a repair or rental of equipment arises, it is good to know that a supplier or mechanic will think your bush hogging problem relates to a Bush hog brand farm implement.

You will catch me using both terms in this article because one is more common in my area of Appalachia, and so folks who are familiar with only the other term can also find this piece when searching, and be able to learn from it too.

What Does Brush Hog Mean?

A brush hog it a rotary type of rough cutting mower that attaches to a tractor via a three point hitch. A bush hog is driven by the power take-off – PTO that is positioned perpendicular to the slope. Rotary cutters are basically a heavy duty type of mowing deck.

The generic “brush hog” term is used when referencing any type of mowing deck that is not a finish mower – that is not a Bush Hog brand mower. This brand was created in Selma, Alabama in 1947 by the same man who also invented tractor powered rotary cutters, “Fat” Lawrence.

What Does a Finishing Mower Do?

A finishing mower is never used to brush hog. It is a yard tractor or standard riding mower with blades that reach far lower to the ground than those on a rotary mowing deck.

If you are bush hogging to clear land for building a home or to enlarge a back yard, a finishing mower would only be used after removing unwanted vegetation. A finishing mower will give a finer more landscaped cut after the tall grass and weeds have been chopped down by a bush hog.

Brush hog in action

What Is the Difference Between a Rough Mower and a Finishing Mower?

The primary difference between a finishing mower and a rough cut mower is the brush hogging implement boasts both a heavier and sturdier blade.

The durability of the blade on the rough cut mower permits it to slice through thicker material in a fairly easy manner. Typically, rough cut mowers are manufactured out of far more heavy duty materials than a finishing mower.

What Is Brush Hogging?

A brush hog is a rough mower that is attached to a tractor (a mowing deck, if you will) that is used to cut small brush and heavy weeds. In a pinch, I have known a homesteader or two that have used a brush hog to cut hay and it works decently enough, but I dare not say it works well.

A bush hog is attached to the tractor and towed behind for clearing land (grubbing it) to create a pasture, hay field, home location spot, or garden spot or to tend to established pastures and hay fields.

A brush hog cuts in a pattern that is both efficient and will help save both fuel and time. The alternative to tending to a field properly would be using a regular riding mower and a weed eater – a vastly more time consuming proposition.

Not only would using a more residential style of grass and weed cutting in a field or to clear land take a whole lot more time, such equipment would not be able to cut down dense brush without clogging or breaking blades.

When purchasing a farm tractor, some type of a 2 point cutter designed for bush hogging either comes with it or is sold separately as a recommended attachment.

What Is the Difference Between a Drag Brush Hog and a Hydraulic Brush Hog?

We show you and explain the differences in the video below:

Why Should You Bush Hog a Pasture?

Even existing livestock pastures should be brush hogged at least once a year to prevent weeds from taking over, and vastly decreasing grass growth, and to keep adjacent woods from spreading into the grazing area.

A plethora of medicinal weeds often grow in pastures, so forage away, then set the mowing deck to a medium to high level, and cut down only the undesirable growth.

  • By brush hogging the land you prevent unwanted growth from sucking up all the nutrients you need to go towards quality grass development.
  • If you do not tend to the pasture, fields, or open areas in this matter they will be reclaimed by the forest in a surprisingly short amount of time.
  • Bush hogging also prevents tall and thick growth from overshadowing smaller plants and grass that you are attempting to cultivate.
  • When trying to create a field on the homestead, regular bush hogging will keep the weeds under control, and allow quality grass that has been planted or trying to grow to flourish. Brush hogging more frequently than the once or twice a year to maintain an established field is required when developing a pasture or hay field.
  • During the field development process, you set the mower deck higher on the brush hog the second cut to help so the field can naturally decompose plant residue and increase soil quality. This also creates small moisture pockets that enhance the overall health of the pasture being developed.
  • By bush hogging in the middle to late fall, depending upon your climate, a blanket of cut growth serves as a natural blanket that will increase microbial activity by warming the surface area.

How Much Does It Cost To Bush Hog A Field?

The amount of money it will take to hire someone to brush hog a field or rent equipment to do so varies greatly by location.

On average, expect to spend $25 to $41 per hour to clear land or tend to a field if you do not own your own equipment, and have to rent it or the services of someone else to complete the chore.

How Long Does It Take to Brush Hog a Field

The answer to this question will depend on the terrain being cleared and the skill of the person doing the job. If the area has been cleared of stumps, overhanging limbs, dense thickets, and checked for debris, and is somewhat level and dry, you should be able to cut approximately two and a half acres per hour.

Most homesteaders bush hog during the middle to the late weeks of summer when weeds begin to appear in pastures and fields. The quality of land being worked, climate, and seasonal weather may require two or even three brush hogging sessions – or as few as one.

Who invented the PTO?

As previously mentioned PTO stands for power take-off, and is the means by which a brush hug is attached to a tractor.

In 1918 Edward A. Johnston, an engineer for International Harvester Company (IHC) was so impressed with a homemade PTO he encountered when in France, he helped produce one on the company’s 8-16 series tractor.

All that is known about the French farmer who inspired the revolutionary farm machinery mechanism is that he also worked as a mechanic, and his surname was Gougis.

How Fast Does a PTO Spin?

A PTO is capable of spinning around at a rate of 1,000 times per minute – that is equal to 16 times per second and 18,000 feet per minute.

Brush Hog Setup

Before you can start cutting a livestock pasture or clearing land, the brush hog mowing deck must be properly attached to the tractor. This is usually the most difficult part of bush hogging there is to learn for most beginners. If you do this part wrong, the brush hogging implement could be damaged, cause harm, fall off, or simply not cut at all.

How to Connect the Brush Hog PTO Shaft and Start a Brush Hog Mower

See our video below on how to connect the PTO shaft:

How to Adjust a Brush Hog and Drive the Machinery

How Do You Engage the PTO?

How to Brush Hog Step by Step

Step 1 – Rough Mowing Perimeter

Mow along the perimeter of the pasture, field, or area to be cleared in a roughly rectangular shape. Make a few passes with the brush hog to clearly define the boundaries of the cutting area. This is especially useful if rugged terrain, a fence, boundary line, or waterways border the bush hogging area.

This also gives you a chance to go slow and take one final look for potentially hazardous debris and tree limbs. Do not forget to be mindful of snakes both on the ground and lounging in the trees, as well as ground hornets and bee hives.

Step 2 – Brush Hogging the Field

Start at one side of the interior of the boundary area and rough mow straight along one side. Make a defined turn, and then mow another strip down alongside the first. Repeat this step until the interior area has been completely cut.

Step 3 – Due Diligence

  • Slightly overlap the parallel rows you create to avoid any weeds being missed in between the rows.
  • Periodically look back at the brush hog mower deck to it is not cutting too deep, too high, or getting clogged with debris.
  • Occasionally check for dirt and debris build up on the blades. This happens most often in the field is wet or the blades are cutting too low into the ground. Blade issues of this type most frequently occur when bush hogging on uneven terrain where multiple deck height adjustment will be necessary.
  • Brush hogs often extend out on either side wider than the tractor that is towing the implement. Remember that fact and watch the space keenly when cutting close to trees and a fenceline.

Can You Brush Hog in the Rain?

You can typically successfully brush hog in damp grass, in the early morning when there is still dew on the ground, or in slightly wet grass. You cannot, however, brush hog in truly wet grass without a tremendous amount of problems – chief among them being tearing up the land you are trying to improve

Expect far more clogging of the rough mowing deck blades when attempting to cut on anything but dry ground. The brush hog mower will be forced to work harder to clear the land when the ground is wet.

Does Mowing Wet Grass Dull The Blade?

Usually, brush hogging over wet grass will not cause the blades on the rough cut mower to become dull more quickly than when cutting on dry ground.

Brush Hog Safety Tips

  • Drive the brush hog slowly until you have become more accomplished at running the tractor with a rough mower attached. Operating the machinery in low range on a gear driven tractor is the safest route to go when first learning how to brush hog or when cutting in either unfamiliar or rugged terrain.
  • Remove the bucket on your tractor before bush hogging. It will be of no use to you with this homesteading chore and can easily hit fence posts and trees when you are forced to make tight turns when cutting.
  • Pay attention to how the roll bar is moving while brush hogging. Low lying tree limbs or utility wires can become tangled in the roll bar when driving a large farm tractor.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not engage the PTO until you are actually bush hogging – not while driving the tractor to the desired spot. This simply saves wear and tear on the mechanism, and makes the ride to the rough mowing area far easier on the lower back – even if you are blessed with a really comfortable tractor seat.
  • Always check the temperature gauge on the tractor while bush hogging. Weeds and small bits of branches can get sucked into the fan, and cause the radiator to overheat. If the tractor is getting too hot, stop brush hogging and allow it to cool down enough to remove the clogging debris.
  • Don’t let your dogs tag along on this farm chore. The rugged blades on the brush hog can throw debris a great distance and at a high speed. Even a tiny rock thrown free from the blades could cause serious injury or death to a dog, livestock, children, or farm helpers who are standing in the vicinity of the rotary cutters.
  • The rear of the brush hog will swing out a lot more quickly than you might think when making a turn. Pay special attention to going around corners or near trees and fencing so avoid the cutting deck from being damaged or becoming wrapped around a corner post.

How to Grub a Wooded Area to Turn It Into Pasture or a Growing Plot

Although the most common step to clearing land is timbering, that alone will not prepare the space for home building, gardening, or livestock grazing. Bush hogging will be needed to turn unimproved land or a wooded area into a usable space for homesteading or living activity.

Land Clearing Steps and Tools

  1. Cut down unwanted trees – turn them into firewood or building material.
  2. Remove tree stumps using farm machinery, or by drilling holes in them and pouring Borax in the holes to kill them so they can easily be pulled out or burnt.
  3. Bush hog the space once it is free of dangerous obstacles like tree stumps and tall dense bushes that would prevent the tractor from moving through it.

The height the mowing deck that should be set will depend on the amount and thickness of brush, as well as the terrain. Unless you are bush hogging an entirely level field, expect to have to adjust the height of the deck at least once to adapt to dips, valleys, and rocks that become unearthed during the cutting process.

For the sake of safety, especially to prevent tractor rollovers, never brush hog any ground that you have not walked first, or into dense growth you cannot see through. Walking the area to be bush hogged before starting the homesteading chore cannot be recommended highly enough.

Manual labor and the use of either manual or gas-powered farm tools may be necessary to clear away tall and dense obstacles before brush hogging the space. Always look above your head when riding on the tractor, some low lying tree branches could knock you right off the seat or at least be a cause for getting stitches, if you drive into them.

Top 8 Pre-Brush Hogging Land Clearing Tools

  • Pole Saw – This type of saw has extremely long hands that contain the power portion of the saw at the end where your hand will rest. Pole saws make cutting down tree limbs a lot quicker and typically a lot safer than climbing a tree and cutting down a portion of it with a chainsaw.
  • Hatchet or Axe – This durable and portable tool is excellent for chopping down trees that are no larger than 2 inches in diameter. Sure, a chainsaw would get the job done quickly, but it is a lot heavier to pack. Maneuvering a tractor pulling a brush hog around little trees is difficult, and trying to mow over them can cause significant damage to the mowing deck.
  • Machete – A sharp machete is capable of cutting down small tree saplings and thick brambles. Toting a lightweight machete with you during an on foot review before bush hogging or attaching it to your belt while on the tractor, will keep this useful tool always at the ready. When clearing a forest area of overgrown field, expect a snake or two to jump out when their domain is disturbed. A machete will take care of this problem, as well.
  • Pruning Shears – If the tall and thick weeds cause the brush hog to become clogged or you need to cut away tall thickets that dangle over the tractor seat area, pruning shears will come in quite handy. Always refer to the user’s manual before cutting away a tangled mess from under the mowing deck. If the blades release suddenly, cutting off a hand is entirely likely.
  • Weed Eater – Making a rough pathway to inspect the area to be bush hogged will help you unearth tree stumps, rocks, and debris that could harm the farm implement or overturn the tractor Blazing a trail clear enough to conduct an inspection of the space can be fairly easily accomplished with a weed eater.
  • Scythe or Sickle – These low-tech versions of weed eaters can also accomplish the task noted above, and negate the need to purchase and tote fuel to help clear a rough path or cut down dense thickets the brush hog would struggle to traverse.
  • Chainsaw – This power tool will cut down trees, branches, and can slice on a tree stump to make it shorter and scored so Borax can work more efficiently to erode it.
  • Stump Grinder – If you have a lot of tree stumps on the land being cleared, buying or renting a stump grinder will surely speed up the time it will take to turn neglected or wooded area into usable homesteading space.

Bush hogging is not a daunting task for someone who is experienced with running a farm tractor and switching out implements. A beginner who follows the brush hog user guide and safety protocols should also be able to master clearing land and maintaining pastures in a relatively short amount of time.

The two most important things to remember when brush hogging are to make sure the tractor and rough mowing deck being used are in good working order, and that the land being worked has been thoroughly inspected for hazards prior to cutting.

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Tara Dodrill
About Tara Dodrill 124 Articles
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day. her homesteading skills are unmatched, she raises chickens, goats, horses, a wide variety of vegetables, not to mention she's an expert is all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping and many, many more.

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