How to Outfit a Compact Track Loader for Brush Cutting and Land Management Applications

ASV mulching attachment

The United States encompasses an area of 3.79 million square miles, and managing all that land and water is an imperative part of communities across the country. Fitted with tracks and the ability to switch attachments, compact track loaders are amazing land management machines that can tackle all types of vegetation applications with the right attachment — tree spade, stump grinder, sod roller, root grapple, mower, sprayer and (the focus of this story) brush cutters.

Most heavy equipment OEMs even offer a brush cutting or forestry spec CTL that’s upfitted to work with a drum mulching attachment (the gnarliest of all brush cutters). Contractors can also retrofit most CTLs with aftermarket products that will do the same work. Even the lower horsepower CTLs are capable of wielding drum mulchers within certain limitations. Equipped with the right brush cutter, CTL owners and operators can bring in a steady stream of revenue when dirt work and other types of jobs are not available. Whether its hobby farms, powerline and utility rights-of-ways, hunting land, disaster cleanup or pioneering sitework, there are plenty of customers, both private and public. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Drum Mulcher Selection for Compact Track Loaders

Loftness rooftop hydraulic cooler.

The centerpiece of any land management operation is a drum mulcher. These are the most popular mulching attachments for clearing trees and brush, says Lee Padgett, product manager at Takeuchi-US. Front mounted and connected to your compact track loader’s auxiliary hydraulic circuit, drum mulchers can be used to take down small material all the way up to large trees. They come in different sizes for different carriers and bring sophisticated technology with them such as variable torque motors, load-sensing motors, hydraulic deflectors and bite-limiter teeth on the drums. As a general rule, CTLs with 75 hp and below can be upfitted for light to occasional mulching. More powerful machines can typically do heavy mulching full time.

“We start our true forestry spec at 75 hp and above,” says Buck Storlie, product manager for Yanmar Compact Equipment North America, which includes the ASV brand. “Our ASV RT-75 HD is designed for a 50/50 or 70/30 split with the 30 percent being forestry work.” For full time forestry work, the ASV stable goes up to the 132-hp RT-135. “Those are for full-time mulchers who are in that business,” he says. Just remember, Storlie says, you can always do dirt work with a forestry spec machine, but you can’t go the other way — do drum mulching efficiently with a dirt spec machine.

Hydraulic CTL Requirements for Brush Cutting

Fecon auxillary cooler on a compact track loader for brush cutting

As with any high-power attachment, a contractor will first need to make sure the compact track loader has enough hydraulic capacity to operate it, says Padgett. The machine will also need sufficient hydraulic cooling to combat the higher oil temperatures drum mulchers and forestry applications create. First, how much flow will be required — gallons per minutes (gpm) and pressure (psi)?

“We have two different [choices] — high flow and standard flow,” says Brandon Leidenheimer, product manager at Fecon. “High flow needs at least 75 engine horsepower and 30 to 50 gpm of hydraulic flow and anywhere up to 6,000 psi. For standard flow we like it to have a minimum of 55 hp and 17 to 30 gpm up to 4,000 psi,” he says.

Either will get the job done, but the choice depends on how much you’ll use it, says Leidenheimer. “Standard flow units are good for occasional use, maybe three times a week, a landscaper doing 2- or 4-in. material, maybe a 1-acre lot. Whereas a high-flow guy will be doing up to 16-in. material and several acres a day four or five days a week.”

If a pro is going to do contract work and wants to be competitive in mulching, he or she will need at least 36 gpm hydraulic flow and 3,500 psi, says Clint Major, product specialist at Loftness. “That would be the lowest I would recommend. The more gpm the better. It really boils down to the size of material you’re trying to go after.” Small units with standard flow can mulch material up to 8 in. in diameter whereas the biggest units with the highest flows can take down trees up to 16 in. in diameter and do it all day long. Of course, all-day operation will definitely heat up all that pressurized hydraulic oil. Some machines are designed for all that heat. Others might need an extra cooler.

“In our forestry specific machines, we have cooling packages which can take 100 percent load 100 percent of the time up to 118 degrees,” says Storlie. “Dirt machines have a dirt spec cooler, but you can add a rooftop cooling package option. You need to know if your machine comes with a forestry spec cooler, or otherwise consider the aftermarket cooler options from that manufacturer.”

“The biggest accessory we sell is the rooftop hydraulic cooler,” says Fecon’s Leidenheimer. “It is not required, but it is recommended. Oil is getting turned over a lot of times per minute and heats up quickly when you’re running 35 or 40 gallons per minute in a high-duty cycle.”

Armor Up a Track Loader for Brush Cutting Applications

JCB compact track loader 325T with brush cutting attachment

Anytime you are running drum mulchers, flail motors or other land management attachments on a compact track loader, a shatterproof door is an absolute necessity, says Major. The rest of the guarding can be considered optional, but not the operator-facing protection. This generally means 3/4-in. polycarbonate glass. A forestry-spec machine should have this, but dirt machines generally do not. Polycarbonate side and rear glass is a good idea, but many users will put in metal grids or guards here. The cab should also be rated for falling object protection or FOPS.

Wire cage guarding or laser cut brackets will protect lights and other components from flying debris. Rear bumpers and guarding can prevent denting or piercing of the radiator in the event of a backup accident. A rear mounted winch can also protect the cooling system to a degree, not to mention get you or another machine out of a jam from time to time. A fire extinguisher or a fire suppression system is highly recommended.

“Equipment fires are more prevalent in forestry applications where fine wood chips and debris will work their way into the engine compartment,” says Leidenheimer. This is especially true with modern diesel engines that have EGR recirculation, regens and a lot of hot components, he says. Additional lighting including light bars can be handy for contractors who mulch in the early morning or late evening. Hydraulic coupler guards and sleeves that protect hydraulic cylinders are also useful.

Drum Mulcher Attachment Tooth Types


Drum mulchers offer three basic tooth types. The flat blade style, pointed and carbide. The flat-blade teeth do the best job of turning vegetation into neat, uniform size chips. If you want to create a finer mulched product, use bite-limiter teeth. Pointed teeth are helpful in splitting tough, fibrous material. Reversible teeth will reduce the time it takes to change teeth. Carbide teeth are only used when rocks are present that might otherwise dull other teeth. They wear longer but are not as efficient at cutting material. A lot of rental fleets will use carbide teeth, and they can be useful in mixing chipped organic matter into the dirt.

Daily CTL Operation and Maintenance

Compact track loaders maintenance

For a dirt-work compact track loader, a daily walk around may suffice, but in mulching and forestry applications Leidenheimer recommends operators stop every four hours to blow out the radiators, screens and other compartments. Contractors will also want to do a detailed inspection of the jobsite before starting. Padgett offers the following pre-flight checklist:

  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and ensure bystanders are kept at a safe distance from the operating area.
  • Before starting, inspect the work area. Remove large rocks, debris or obstacles that could damage the mulcher or pose a safety hazard during operation.
  • Check that all fluid levels are within the recommended range.
  • Inspect the drum, cutting teeth and other components for signs of wear or damage.
  • Tighten any loose bolts or fittings as necessary.

During the job adjust the height and angle of the mulching drum according to the terrain and the material being mulched, says Padgett. Avoid overloading the drum with excessive material, as it can reduce the efficiency and performance of the machine. When necessary, use the pusher bar or other attachments to assist with feeding larger debris. After each day you should clean the mulcher to remove accumulated debris. Inspect the cutting teeth and replace any worn or damaged teeth promptly.

Tom Jackson is a freelance writer for Compact Equipment. He has been writing about construction equipment for more than 20 years and now edits an online column, Heavy Equipment Insights, on construction technology and sustainability at

Other Land Management Attachments

John Deere’s Stump Shredder attachment on a compact track loader
John Deere’s Stump Shredder.
  • Deck mowers or rotary mowers provide a clean, even cut on jobs where the material is 1 to 2 in. in diameter. The larger models can cut trees and brush up to 6 in. in diameter.
  • Tree shears can go after trees 16 to 20 in. in diameter after which the logs are processed in a chipper or tub grinder.
  • Stump grinders are designed to reduce tree stumps larger than 16 in. in diameter and are well suited to work with CTL hydraulics.