Ride-on mower versus lawn tractor – decision time

by Mars

It’s taken us two years to get to this point but we need some serious equipment to help us maintain our field as the requirement to use more of it productively grows. We have had to break down the ride-on mower versus lawn tractor conundrum to figure out what’s right for us.

As with most things in life, options abound in the ride-on mower and lawn tractor universe. To confuse matters further, companies loosely interchange the lawn tractor and ride-on mower term so there’s no industry consistency from a terminology perspective to guide you.

Essentially, there are two different ‘types’ you can get, irrespective of what they’re labeled or referred to by manufacturers: one has the cutting deck located directly underneath the chassis; the other has the cutting deck in front of the machine. Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and the decision centres on requirements, use and terrain.

In our case, we need equipment that can handle a gradient (around 9 degrees) and that can cut around trees. Next year, or the year after, we’ll go even further down the field where the gradient gets steeper.

By all accounts, we’re looking for a machine where the cutting deck is located underneath the chassis as this has a lower centre of gravity, and theoretically makes it safer to operate on sloping land.

Mowers with the cutting deck located in front are more agile and maneuverable, have tighter turning circles, and can cut underneath things (like hedgerows and furniture like benches), but they sacrifice their centre of gravity and become slightly less suitable for mowing on gradients.

Ride-on mower versus lawn tractor – our options

In total, we’ve spent days reading about different models and options, and it’s easy to rule out less powerful options for us because we need machines with bucketloads of power to get up and down our slope.

Armed with our initial research, we headed down to our local country store where we were able to see most of the models on our final wishlist and to also test drive them.

For starters, we crossed Stihl off our list. We love Stihl as a brand and they make fantastic garden and power tools, but their ride-on mowers, even though they’re competitively priced, weren’t what we’re looking for. It’s a machine built for manicured lawns rather than rugged fields.

The Grillo pictured below was never a consideration, but they had one in the showroom, and it looks like a go-kart with a mowing deck. It’s a unique design, but not the machine for us.

ride-on mower versus lawn tractor

The Stiga professional model was a decent option, but we eventually ruled it out because it lacked the power we needed, and the build quality wasn’t as good as other machines we saw. We are, however, still interested in the Stiga 9122 XWSY, and we have contacted their marketing and PR department to see whether we could review and test their machine on our field.

As this stand, this leaves Husqvarna, John Deere and the Stiga mentioned above. The Husqvarnas have front mounted cutting decks; the John Deeres and Stigas are undermounted. The John Deere and Husqvarna are similarly priced with virtually the same power outputs from Kawasaki engines, while the Stiga sports a Honda engine.

The John Deere X590, for our property and terrain, seems to be the better fit on paper. It’s not a four-wheel drive. So why the hesitation? Well, we’re trying to be sustainable and these are petrol models, and there are no comparable battery-operated models available in the UK at the moment.

We contacted all the major manufacturers, and the few that replied wouldn’t commit to revealing when battery-operated models would be available on these shores, despite them having released such models in other markets.

Nevertheless, we took the John Deere out for a spin today, and it’s powerful. Very powerful. But it spews a lot of exhaust fumes, and it’ll get through about 16 litres of petrol per 90-minute session. That’s off-putting for me.

So we have a dilemma. We can’t continue to have marathon, exhausting strimmimg sessions maintaining the field, and there’s no powerful, good quality, battery-operated machine coming out in the near future, but at the same time I’m not convinced about the petrol powered options from an environmental and sustainable perspective.

Please feel free to weigh in on our ride-on mower versus lawn tractor thoughts by leaving a comment below.

31 comments

Eddy Winko 29 July 2020 - 19:38

Wouldn’t buying a good second hand unit would be more sustainable?
I would also maybe look at it from another angle and consider what else you might want to do in the future, a small mini tractor may be versatile; a cutter deck, a rotavator, a plough, a harrow, a cultivator, an auger etc. I bet you could get a good second hand Iseki or Kubota for close to the price of a new ride on mower.
Incidentally do you mean 1.6 litres? 16 seems very excessive 🙂 My Mitsubishi tractor only uses a little over a litre of diesel for an hours work.

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Mars 29 July 2020 - 22:11

We have deliberated a mini tractor, but parking and storage is an issue at our property in the way it’s laid out.

I was equally astounded by the 16 litres. The sales guy reckons you’ll get through a full tank of petrol in a 90-minute session. I’ll continue to research, because 16 litres does sound crazy.

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Terry lucas 12 October 2020 - 15:09

Try a ventrac 4500, and you’ll never look back, with dual wheel kit it can be safely operated on 35 * + slopes , and you can get additional attachments for everything you can dream of that you need to do. It took me a while to convince myself to spend the money….but I’d be lost without mine

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Mars 12 October 2020 - 15:15

Thank you Terry. Sounds really interesting and I’ll do some research this week. Really appreciate you taking the time to share this suggestion with us.

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Steve Elliott 29 July 2020 - 21:29

Hi Mars, the photo is probably misleading but it doesn’t look particularly steep. Is the slope getting close to the limit on any of the machines you looked at?

You could try a scythe. They don’t get much greener than that and it would be good exercise too. We have several Austrian scythes which are much lighter than the English ones. We bought them from this chap

http://www.thescytheshop.co.uk/index.html

For several years running I went to Scythe festivals which they were running in the West Country. They were a lot of fun. I still use mine every year for some steep banks where it’s easier than the strimmer.

Be very careful if anyone suggests having a few sheep in there. They will keep the grass down but they will also destroy any young trees you have.

Sorry I can’t help with the mower problem. We’ve never had a ride on.
Cheers
Steve

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Mars 29 July 2020 - 22:17

Thanks Steve. Never considered a scythe. At the moment the strimmer takes ages and it’s very tiring. Would a scythe be more efficient than a strimmer? They do look like good fun.

The gradient isn’t crazy by any means, but the strimmer just takes too long, and as we utilise more land it’ll just add to the time and effort. If there was decent battery-powered option, it would make life so much easier.

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Alan Walker 20 November 2020 - 14:21

Mars, can you say roughly what size your field is that you’re looking to use your mower/tractor on? If hand scything isn’t your thing, then have you looked at power scythes? I recently bought an Alko BM 875 III scythe mower to help me keep the grass down in an area that I planted woodland trees in last year (on a slope of about 16 degrees). Its certainly quicker than the Stihl strimmer I was previously using, and has the advantage of being kinder to wildlife. There are more expensive power scythe’s out there, such as the BCS range that have the capability to add attachments, but I couldn’t justify buying one of those. The downside is that its a bit more manual labour than a sit-on machine, and it doesn’t collect the cuttings (an issue I’ve yet to solve!). Its probably only an option up to a certain size of field, hence the question.

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Mars 22 November 2020 - 08:45

Hi Alan

We’ve got around 2 acres – there are still two-thirds that needs to be claimed back and managed. I’ll definitely look into the scythe mower, which sounds super interesting. You’re spot on, strimmers are time consuming and not great for the toads and other field wildlife. Collecting cuttings isn’t issue in a field, so not too phased about that. I’ll definitely look at both ranges you’ve mentioned in the coming week. Thanks for pointing us in a new direction.

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Cathy 29 July 2020 - 22:56

We have a Stiga but I must say it looks more robust than that latest model in your local showroom. We have very steep parts on our land, and very rough bumpy ground too and it copes with a lot! I also think a mini tractor might really be an option though, even if you need to sacrifice space for storing it. It opens up so many possibilities for future projects, like your first commenter says. If you are making more space for growing things a tractor and rotivator would be so very useful….

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Mars 30 July 2020 - 07:54

Thanks for the feedback and insights Cathy. Storage is always a headache, and a massive consideration because you want to keep them protected over the winter.

The Stiga you guys have, is it a front-mounted deck? Interesting to hear that it copes well with steep and bumpy gradients.

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Mars 1 August 2020 - 15:18

Can I please ask which model you have so that we can google it and compare against the John Deere X590?

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Cathy 2 August 2020 - 22:50

Hi Mars, I had to ask my technical expert for the details. 😉 We have the older version of the Stiga Estate Pro 9122. It is 4 wheel drive, mid mounted, and my partner mows about 4000 square metres regularly and sometimes quite a bit more. He says it is very manouevrable and fun to drive. They have changed the design, which is what made me think the one in the picture you showed was not so robust. (Our engine is completly under the metal front without all the black plastic). We looked at the John Deere model online and it also looks like a good option. Sorry, no idea about how much petrol we need though. Hope this has helped!

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Mars 3 August 2020 - 07:04

Thanks for getting info for us and for the helpful overall feedback. Greatly appreciated.

We will go back online and look at the Stiga Estate Pro range, as we’re not convinced that the John Deere X590 is a 4 wheel drive. Given the price of these machines, we want make 100% sure that what we buy is going to get the job done. Thanks again for looking into this for us, and please thank your partner for his insights and feedback.

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Cathy 3 August 2020 - 19:43

You‘re welcome!

A.V. Walters 30 July 2020 - 06:10

We’ve never mowed. We keep the orchard looking crisp with a weed whacker (string thingy). We are considering more aggressive field management. We already have a Kubota. We use it for everything. (We have attachments, a loader, a backhoe, a snowblower and a yard rake.) We dug the foundations, put in the septic tank and system put in drainage and underground electrical. We dug in the orchard trees (deep holes so we could amend our poor soils.) We do all our snow removal (a huge task here in Northern Michigan.)We use it when we harvest firewood (to carry tools and pull the trailer.) Currently, we’re using it to grade around the new barn (and put in drainage.) Our property is VERY steep, but the Kubota is low slung and not tippy. We bought used, but low hours. It has probably been the most useful purchase of our transition to country living.

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Mars 30 July 2020 - 08:16

The freedom and flexibility of the Kubota certainly sounds appealing because at the moment most of the jobs are done manually by us. Size and storage are the major drawbacks. You’re in a very cold part of the world come winter – how and where do you leave your Kubota tractor?

I’ve been streaming/weed whacking our field, but it’s a protracted, labour intensive job, and it’s time I could spend on other things.

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Steve Elliott 30 July 2020 - 06:31

No, a scythe wouldn’t be more efficient than a strimmer. I was joking a bit when I mentioned it but it is fun and interesting to try. When I used to go to the scythe festivals a famous scyther from America used to come over to give demonstrations. He used to cut acres of hay on his farm by hand and it was a pleasure to watch. He made it look effortless and he did tricks as well. Scythes are good in certain conditions and when it cuts well it’s very satisfying.

We’ve got a Stihl brush cutter which has two blades. One is a metal blade for tough stuff and the other is the usual cord. However a couple of years ago we bought a different kind of cutter called Jet-Fit made by Oregon. It has stiff, heavy cord which is corrugated and it cuts everything very efficiently, brambles and grass. I use it all the time now and you might find that easier.

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Eddy Winko 30 July 2020 - 06:52

A scythe is great, I use one everyday in the summer for cutting grass for rabbits and goats (a barrow in the morning, one in the evening) and it is my preference for getting in close to trees once I have gone round with the mower on the tractor.

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Mars 30 July 2020 - 07:51

Thanks Eddy and Steve for the insights on scythes. I didn’t even think that in this ‘modern’ world old school methods like scythes would even be a thing. I’m intrigued, and am definitely going to look into it further.

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Steve Elliott 30 July 2020 - 07:35

Some years ago we decided it would be nice to grow our own grain for the chickens so we planted half an acre of triticale. Triticale is a hybrid and is supposed to be resistant to rust so it’s favoured by organic farmers. It grew very well and tall and I cut it all with a scythe. A scythe is great under those conditions where the crop is tall and upright and you can get a rhythm going. It was exhilarating.

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Mars 30 July 2020 - 07:52

That really sounds amazing Steve. I’ve been through the link you sent me, and the options and choices are vast. I’ll do a bit of research and look at getting one.

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Steve Elliott 30 July 2020 - 10:09

I forgot to mention that another consideration is whether or not the mower will collect the grass. I think the Stiga mowers with the cutter sticking out in front don’t collect.

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Mars 30 July 2020 - 21:33

You’re spot on Steve. The front cutting deck models don’t typically collect clippings, but they can be fitted with mulching kits that cut the clippings very fine, and the grass decomposes and breaks down very quickly.

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Guy 31 July 2020 - 15:32

Hello there,
I have been through a similar debate recently and have come across a few other options that you may want to consider… the land in question for me was rather steep which lead to these discoveries (and the smallholding magazine!)
There is a machine called a goldoni 20 which is kind of a cross between a ride on mower a quad bike and a small alpine tractor. It can be bought sond hand to reduce carbon foot print. It is sable on slopes due to low centre of gravity and has a pto – so will run a flail mower or finish deck or even small hay making equipment.
Second consideration is a bcs walking tractor or grillo brand. These can be used with a mowing sulky so you can sit down and be towed along. Very versatile and cheap in comparison to the alternatives. Best choice for extreme slopes (as you won’t roll over with the machine!)
Both of these could be used for trailer work and food garden soil works if you are into that.
Third option is an electric quad bike coupled with a tow along mowing deck – though these are driven by a small on board petrol motor for the most part. May be more economical in the long run though?
Also farmers have announced a smallholder sized electric tractor but I do not know the release date.

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Guy 31 July 2020 - 15:34

Sorry *farmtrac the brand have announced the electric tractor

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Ralph Brunjes 30 October 2020 - 20:50

Concerning which machine to choose I had a FEIDER FRE-7050 this is an electric ride on mower and I would not advise anyone to buy one. It was unstable , the machine just took off when it wanted to ,the mower deck had two electric cutt6blades and they worked sometimes other times just one would work and the wiring was so flimsy they may as well never even bothered to put it in.
I ended up buying a mountfield T40H LAWN TRACTOR petrol powered and I am totally happy with it.

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Mars 30 October 2020 - 21:15

Thank you for the honest feedback and insights Ralph. I’ll check out the Mountfield model you’ve mentioned, and it’s a shame there aren’t more electric ride ons available in the UK, but we’ve been informed that there will be more models coming to these shores in 2021.

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Ralph Brunjes 30 October 2020 - 21:53

The Mountfield is also automatic transmission.
The reason that my wife bought me the electric machine is that I have MS and she thought that it would be easy for me to use. Wrong. I was on and off more times than a yo-yo putting the machine back together, lifting up the body which was not easy.
The Mountfield is great. I have since got myself a tipping trailer for it and it does everything that is needed of it.

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Mars 31 October 2020 - 08:01

Thanks again for the great feedback and insights. We will definitely look into the Mountfield. It sounds like a great machine.

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Ken Brown 4 November 2020 - 15:16

We have the Stiga Park 520p with a 95 Combi manual deck. Love it but wish we had bought four wheel drive. Even on our relatively flat ground it struggles at times. Wish we had looked in more detail at the mini/micro tractors, ones that are more than just mowers though, the option of a front loader and rear PTO are something to take seriously!
Are you near Charlies?
Scythes are great and probably quicker than a strimmer but take practice… and not “easy” 🙂

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Ken Brown 4 November 2020 - 15:19

Oh and ventrac’s are AMAZING but like hens teeth here and cost a fortune!

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