Topping is a really important grass management tool. This most understated of farm machines can be a dairy farmer's best friend when it comes to planning grazing rotations.
You can increase your clover content by topping regularly during the summer, while topping has also been proven to ease the incidence of common grassland weeds like thistle.
In this article I look at five different topper manufacturers, all based in Ireland and all employing locally. When buying a topper, one of the first questions you need to ask your dealer is: how low can the cutting height adjustment be set?
Don't be afraid to look for a demonstration.
Toppers generally either use a disc or flail cutting mechanism. Teagasc research has indicated that a clean, sharp cut down to about 5cm is the best way to encourage regrowth. While this has led a lot of people to switch over to the disc type machines, a number of Irish manufacturers continue to make flail-type toppers, which are popular for their simplicity and keen pricing.
For both systems, a key factor to watch is the sharpness of the blades or knives. Dull blades are the worst enemy for good regrowth because they tend to rip the grass apart rather than cut it cleanly.
Northern Ireland-based Fleming Agri manufacture a range of in-line and semi-offset grass toppers, both mounted and trailed.
The model pictured (left) is the 8ft (2.5m) cutting width Superfloat model and it requires about 80hp to power it. This topper is fitted with a floating top link and has spring-assisted body flotation to provide bilateral movement. This creates minimal stress resistance on the machine and helps to keep the blades at an even cutting height at all times. Cutting height is adjustable with this machine from 5cm right up to 20cm. A hydraulic breakaway is fitted as standard and this serves both to protect the machine but also to allow the driver to work at a faster pace. The mower glides on specially designed convex runners to prevent it leaving skid marks on a paddock.
Blades are free floating in the event of a collision and the mower's body is constructed from heavy duty one-piece 3mm thick deck. A Comer gearbox and drive line is used and the rotors are mounted on a one-piece central base plate.
Major Equipment International Ltd, based in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, manufactures a full range of heavy-duty toppers with an impressive range of cutting widths from 6ft up to 18ft. As with all Major machines, they come with a 12 month warranty and support service.
The company are specialists in grass machinery and pride themselves on testing equipment to tough it out in typical Irish conditions. The Major Side-Mounted topper is a fully gear-driven machine fitted with twin high-speed rotors. Power is transmitted between the gearboxes by solid splined shafts joined by rubber couplings, therefore there are no bearing housings and a belt system to maintain, which ultimately reduces running and maintenance costs.
Major recently introduced a new side-mounted topper, adding to its extensive range of fully offset three-point linkage mowers. The new model offers a 2.7m cutting width with a bigger gearbox and rubber couplings capable of handling heavier conditions. A key feature is a premium blade system with under-sole discs, allowing blades to flip out of the way in the event of striking an obstacle. This element, combined with Hardox abrasion resistant steel used to make the under-sole discs, increases the lifespan of the blades. Users will see a major difference in how the topper looks - it folds up vertically. The redesigned carrying arm improves weight distribution, ensuring safer transport while increasing manoeuvrability.
Another recent innovation is Major's Cyclone Mower, a rotary mower that the company says bridges the gap between a traditional grass topper and flail mower. Designed to do the work of a flail, the Major Cyclone is said to require 25pc less power consumption than a typical flail, saving time and fuel costs for users. The heavy-duty machine is increasingly the instrument of choice for clearing crop stubble, pasture topping and land clearance in Ireland and around the world.
The Abbey Machinery topper line-up has a reputation for durability. Irish farmers will be familiar with the Tipperary-based brand for their slurry-spreading machinery.
There are numerous Abbey models in the topper range, with sizes starting from 6ft right up to 9ft trailed or in-line models.
Abbey toppers are ideal for paddock topping or weed control, keeping pasture fresh and meeting all the requirements of cutting and maintenance.
Manufactured in Nenagh, all Abbey toppers are gear driven and fitted with high quality Comer gearboxes. Each topper flail is specially engineered, shaped with hardened steel, cranked and free swinging, minimising damage from concealed objects, while a high quality finish is maintained. The cranked blades allow a high ground clearance on the main rotor blade, again minimising risk of damage.
Some key features are small power requirements and easy manoeuvrability with broad convex skids, which minimise marking and are both adjustable and reversible.
An over-run clutch is fitted as standard on most models and flotation is possible with the use of a centre pivot, allowing the topper to follow field contours. The Abbey Machinery topper line-up ranges in price from €1,250, including up to €4,500 including VAT.
Portlaoise-based LSM Engineering design and manufacture a range of flail grass toppers.
The LSM range includes 5ft, 6ft and 9ft in-line toppers, and 8ft fully offset toppers. All topper bodies have a one-piece design which allows a smoother flow of material when topping. In addition, the sloped panels keep the machine clean when in operation. All LSM toppers are now fitted with 18in heavy duty blades which will retract when they come in contact with foreign objects.
The blades are bushed, which increases swing motion and reduces friction. On twin rotor machines, blades can be moved to the opposite rotor for double life. The company has recently updated the topper skids, which are now redesigned with a view to travelling lighter and turning easier, even in wet ground conditions. The M5 and M6 LSM models come as standard, with shear bolt protection, while the M8 and M9 models now have universal joints and flexible couplers to ensure smooth drive train. Prices for the LSM range of toppers start from around €1,300 plus VAT.
Malone Farm Machinery is another Irish company with plenty of options on the topping front. At entry level, the Mayo-based firm offers the ProCut 2000 topper, a small unit built for tractors ranging from 30hp upwards.
This rotor-based machine is ideal to tackle growth up to 30mm in diameter. It is fitted with two heavy duty blades which are fixed to a single rotor on a direct drive from a centrally mounted gearbox. Malone say the gearbox is specifically designed for this type of machine as it has an extended bearing housing and heavy-duty bearings to support the cutting rotor.
Power is transmitted through a heavy duty PTO shaft, which is fitted with a shearbolt torque limiter. This protects the transmission from overload. Cutting height adjustment is by two side-mounted, wide-based skids. The ProCut 2000 is very much an entry-level topper, but for those looking for bigger options,
Malone offers the ProCut 700, a 7ft disc topper with a strong galvanised frame and heavy duty cutter bar built for withstanding tough Irish conditions. Power is transferred from the pto shaft to the disc bed via multi band belts.
Prices for the ProCut 700 start from around €5,400 including VAT.