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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Center Cut Mower

Center Cut Mower

Center Cut Mower

article and photos by Ben Jahnes of Hopewell, OH

Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and old used things aren’t necessarily cliché. That was my epiphany when I ended my search for a center-cut horse-drawn sickle-mower.

My foray into animal-powered agriculture began with a bred heifer and a bit of sentimentality. You see, my first calf ever was a bull, and who wants to send their first calf to the butcher? The solution to this dilema was a bit of education, on both my part and the bull’s, and a yoke. I was on my way to training an ox.

With ox-power on the horizon, I began looking for tasks on the farm suitable for animal power, and one of the most attractive seemed to be mowing. I caught sight of a couple of youtube videos featuring horse powered haymowers, and I was mesmerized by the pleasing hypnotic song of the sickle-bar mower, clipping through the grass to the hoof-beat of biological power. The desire to play this song, myself, led me to purchase an old rusty John Deere mower, and Lynn Miller’s Horse-Drawn Mower book. I learned that, with some work, my new-old mower could cut grass with more elegance than any modern fossil-fuel-powered appliance.

The prospect of clipping pastures and cutting hay with the mower was satisfying, but I wondered how I might take advantage of a sickle mower in my primary crop of grapes. The problem is, my grape rows are about 9 feet apart, and the haymower is well over 10 feet wide. The Horse-Drawn Mower book hinted at the solution; the center-cut haymower, but an internet search quickly proved the obscurity of such machines, and an antique center-cut mower would be hard to find. Surely there must be existing technologies to address my situation. Hours of searching revealed a prototype center-cut mower on the opposite coast, in Oregon, or the slim possibility of adapting a motorized walk-behind mower to ground-drive. With the prospect of lots of trial and error in assembling something nearly from scratch, I decided to reexamine the past, as many of us do in our unconventional agricultural pursuits.

The John Deere and McCormick Deering mowers have served us well through the decades, and proved their durability. Is it possible to adapt this proven technology rather than tinker with untested modern stand-ins? A couple of mental models and a sketch were enough to decide it was worth a try. With a second mower to experiment with, I set off with the task of reversing the bar and guards to lay across the front path of the machine’s wheels. The following is a detailed documentation of how the conversion was completed.

Center Cut Mower

The existing mower bar was stripped bare of guards, hold-downs, wear-plates, and removed from the inner and outer shoe. When flipped over and reversed to the left direction and positioned to be re-bolted to the inner shoe one notices that the underside of the mower bar has a raised rib towards the rear edge. This rib has a corresponding groove in the inner shoe that is left empty when the the bar is flipped.

Center Cut Mower

To ensure stability of the bar when bolted on upside-down, a shim is cut from bar-stock to fill the gap.

Center Cut Mower

Extending the shim to include a false guard will multiply the cutting surface of the inner ledger, as plugging might occur with the short inner ledger plate on the John Deere.

Center Cut Mower

When the inner shoe wear-plate is placed on the bar for re-installation, one notices that the rib will not allow the wear-plate to sit flat, so a sliver must be cut off of the back side to allow it to be seated properly. A thin shim must be sandwiched over the wear-plate so that the knife-head guide will be level.

Center Cut Mower

A reversed knife must be made to operate on the reversed cutter-bar. Any knife can be converted by removing the knife-head from one side of the bar, and riveting it to the opposite side of the knife, in a backward direction. For the knife to fit in the knife head guide, about 1/2” must be removed from back side of the head using a cutoff blade.

Center Cut Mower

A thinner knife-head guide must be fabricated to allow the pitman to attach properly and reciprocate unimpeded. The bar must be re-bolted to the shoe with a smaller nut on the right stud so that that the pitman head doesn’t rub.

Center Cut Mower

With the guards and hold-downs reinstalled on the bar, a small 2” caster wheel can be bolted onto the far end of the cutter-bar where the outer shoe holes remain. The outer shoe cannot be reinstalled because the hole pattern is reversed when flipped. The cutter bar can now be pinned back on the mower yoke, and the bar’s lead can be adjusted. Lead on the center-cut mower is the opposite of that on the normal haymower. To align the knife slightly forward of the pitman, the elliptical yoke adjustment should be shifted clockwise to increase lead. With the cutter bar now under the mower, the mower pole must be supported so the mower frame does not rest on the cutter bar and bend it. With the Mower reassembled, one can mow in short grass, but long grass will be pushed forward by the timing bar and be sandwiched between the pitman and the cutter bar, causing clogs. To clear potential clogs, the pitman can be modified to rake the falling grass as it cuts.

Center Cut Mower

Tines are inserted into the bottom edge of the pitman every 3 inches along the length, and cut so that they are shorter approaching the head. With this complete, the center-cut mower will cut and windrow the grass to the left side of the machine.

The converted center-cut mower performs beautifully over even ground, operating in fairly tall grass. However, it must be noted that such a converted machine has limitations. Because of the placement of the cutter bar under the frame of the mower, there is reduced ability to raise the bar off of the ground to clear obstacles. Additionally, the caster wheel on the left side of the mower always rolls over the ground, even during transport, so attention must be paid to its path.

So what’s the point of a center-cut sickle mower… couldn’t I just use a trailing gas-powered rotary mower to mow my vineyard? For animal-power purists the center-cut horse drawn mower provides the satisfaction of mowing in tight rows with 100% animal power. People not put off by another engine to maintain might be satisfied by a trailing gas-powered rotary mower. In my application, the rotary mower won’t work because I have intentions beyond trimming grass. At Flint Ridge Vineyard we practice mow and mulch, or mow and throw mulching. This weed control practice consists of mowing grass and raking it under the grapevines to smother the undergrowth. When grass is cut with a rotary mower it is shredded so much that it is difficult to rake, and doesn’t create an even mulch. The grass cut by a sickle bar mower is long and coarse and can be raked like a hay windrow under the row of vines, effectively covering many of the weeds.

Center Cut Mower

The beauty of this center-cut mower is in the simplicity of the conversion, the minimal expense, and the adaptability of a machine that you might already own. With a little time your mower can be converted back and forth between haymower and center-cut mower, serving multiple uses. This is another situation where it isn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel, just tweak it a little.

Spotlight On: Livestock

Plant Poisoning in Horses & Cattle

Plant Poisoning in Horses & Cattle

by:
from issue:

There are hundreds of plants that can be toxic to livestock. Some grow in specific regions while others are more widespread. Some are always a serious danger and others only under certain conditions. Poisoning of livestock depends on several factors, including palatability of the plant, stage of development, conditions in which they grew, moisture content of the plant and the part eaten.

Cattle Handling Part 2 Use Good Cow Sense When Handling Cattle

Cattle Handling Part 2: Use Good Cow Sense When Handling Cattle

by:
from issue:

Cattle are very intelligent, and are just as “trainable” as horses. Like horses, they “reason” differently than humans. Understanding the way cattle think and why they react to you the way they do can enable you handle them in ways that will help rather than hinder your purposes. If you can “think like a cow” you can more readily predict what cattle will do in various situations and be able to handle them with fewer problems.

The Cutting Edge

The Cutting Edge

by:
from issue:

In the morning we awoke to a three quarters of a mile long swath of old growth mixed conifer and aspen trees, uprooted and strewn everywhere we looked. We hadn’t moved here to become loggers, but it looked like God had other plans! We had chosen to become caretakers of this beautiful place because of the peace and quiet, the clean air, the myriad of birds and wildlife! Thus, we were presented with a challenge: how to clean up this blowdown in a clean, sustainable way.

Determining the Age of Farm Animals by their Teeth

Determining the Age of Farm Animals by their Teeth

by:
from issue:

Establishing the age of farm animals through the appearance of the teeth is no new thing. The old saying, “Do not look a gift horse in the mouth,” is attributed to Saint Jerome, of the fifth century, who used this expression in one of his commentaries. Certainly for generations the appearance, development, and subsequent wear of the teeth has been recognized as a dependable means of judging approximately the age of animals.

Shoeing Stocks

An article from the out-of-print Winter 1982 Issue of SFJ.

Harnessing the Future

Harnessing the Future

by:
from issue:

En route to a remote pasture where the Belgian draft horses, Prince and Tom, are grazing, we survey the vast green landscape, a fine mist hovering in distant low lying areas. We are enveloped in a profusion of sweet, earthy balance. Interns and other workers start their chores; one pauses to check his smart phone. Scattered about are many animal-powered rustic implements. This rich and agriculturally diverse, peaceful place is steeped in contrasts: modern and ancient.

Expanding the Use of the Heavy Draught Horse in Europe

Expanding the Use of the Heavy Draught Horse in Europe

“La Route du Poisson”, or “The Fish Run,” is a 24 hour long relay which starts from Boulogne on the coast at 9 am on Saturday and runs through the night to the outskirts of Paris with relays of heavy horse pairs until 9 am Sunday with associated events on the way. The relay “baton” is an approved cross country competition vehicle carrying a set amount of fresh fish.

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

by:
from issue:

On a sunny early September day I met Doug Flack at his biodynamic and organic farm, just South of Enosburg Falls. Doug is an American Milking Devon breeder with some of the best uddered and well behaved animals I have seen in the breed. The animals are beautifully integrated into his small and diversified farm. His system of management seems to bring out the best in the animals and his enthusiasm for Devon cattle is contagious.

Rabbits

Rabbits

by:
from issue:

The domestic rabbit has the potential to become one of the world’s major sources of meat protein. As human populations continue to put pressure on the resources of the food providers, the farmers, the rabbit is likely to begin to interest, not only the farmer, but the family interested in providing food for it’s table. They convert forage more efficiently than do ruminants, such as cattle and sheep. In fact, rabbits can produce five times the amount of meat from a given amount of alfalfa as do beef cattle.

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 2

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 2

In the practice of Zen sitting meditation, a special emphasis is placed on maintaining a relaxed but upright sitting posture, in which the vertical and horizontal axis of the body meet at a center point. Finding this core of gravity within can restore a sense of well-being and ease to the practitioner. This balanced seat of ease is not all that different from the state of relaxed concentration we need to achieve to effectively ride or drive horses.

Working Steers and Oxen on the Small Farm

Working Steers and Oxen on the Small Farm

by:
from issue:

For centuries, the skills of training steers for work and the craft of building yokes and related equipment was passed down from generation to generation. It was common for a young boy or girl to be responsible for the care and training of a team from calves to the age of working capability. Many farms trained a team each year, either for sale or for future replacement in their own draft program.

Feeding Elk Winter Work for the Belgians

Feeding Elk: Winter Work for the Belgians

by:
from issue:

Doug Strike of rural Sublette County is spending his second winter feeding wild elk in nearby Bondurant, Wyoming. Strike is supplementing his logging income as well as helping his team of Belgian draft horses to keep in shape for the coming season. From May to the end of November he uses his horses to skid logs out of the mountains of western Wyoming. I found the use of Doug’s beautiful Belgian team an exciting example of appropriate technology.

Developing Draft Colts

Developing Draft Colts

During October, 1910, The Pennsylvania State College and Experiment Station purchased a group of ten grade Belgian and Percheron colts and one pure bred Percheron for use in live stock judging classes. An accurate record of the initial cost, feeds consumed and changes in form has been kept in order that some definite information as to the cost of developing draft colts from weaning to maturity might be available for farmers, investigators and students.

Cultivating Questions The Cost of Working Horses

Cultivating Questions: The Cost of Working Horses

Thanks to the many resources available in the new millennium, it is relatively easy for new and transitioning farmers to learn the business of small-scale organic vegetable production. Economic models of horse-powered market gardens, however, are still few and far between. To fill that information hole, I asked three experienced farmers to join me in tracking work horse hours, expenses and labor over a two-year period and to share the results in the Small Farmer’s Journal.

Living With Horses

Living With Horses

by:
from issue:

The French breed of Ardennes is closer to what the breed has been in the past. The Ardennes has always been a stockier type of horse, rude as its environment. Today the breed has dramatically changed into a real heavy horse. If the Ardennes had an average weight between 550 and 700kg in the first part of the last century, the balance shows today 1000kg and more. Thus the difference between the Ardennes and their “big” sisters, the Brabants in Belgium, or the Trait du Nord in France, has gone.

The Anatomy of Thrift: Harvest Day

On the Anatomy of Thrift Part 2: Harvest Day

On the Anatomy of Thrift is an instructional series Farmrun created with Farmstead Meatsmith. Their principal intention is instruction in the matters of traditional pork processing. In a broader and more honest context, OAT is a deeply philosophical manifesto on the subject of eating animals. Harvest Day is the second in the series, which explores the ‘cheer’ that is prepared on the day of slaughter, and dives deep into the philosophy and psychology of our relationship to animals.

Types and Breeds of Poultry

From Dusty Shelves: A 1924 article on chicken breeds.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT