Excavator-Mounted Mulcher Keeps Fencerows Clear for Cincinnati MSD

Excavator-Mounted Mulcher Keeps Fencerows Clear for Cincinnati MSD
By using the Fecon Bull Hog BH300 mulcher head, MSDGC has freed up several crew members to perform other important, more pressing jobs around the city.

For most people, spring yard work means getting the mower ready, or trimming back some overgrown hedges. For equipment operators at the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSDGC), it means attaching a Fecon CEM36 hydraulic Bull Hog mulcher head to an excavator and grinding down up to 20 years of overgrown bush. By using the Fecon mulcher, Supervisor Ryan Welsh only has to send a one-man crew out once a year to maintain the sizeable real estate owned by MSDGC, which frees up his team to perform other work such as mowing grass and maintaining landscaping. 

Over the course of a year, fast-growing honeysuckle bushes and other types of brush encroach upon the thousands of yards of fence line that protect the City of Cincinnati’s pump stations and treatment plants. Having up to 10 feet of clear space between the fence line and the surrounding woods ensures security and the integrity of the fences. Welsh explained that in addition to increased sight lines with open space between the woods and the fence, keeping trees far away from the fence makes repairs easy. 

“If trees and brush grow up, you risk the chance they’re going to fall and then you have to keep doing repairs,” he said. “You can’t do fence repairs if there’s all this brush growing up against it.” 

Welsh used to send out a five-man crew with chainsaws and hand tools, or hire a tree trimming company. Sending labor crews out was less safe and an inefficient use of manpower that often required the team to spend several days per year manually clearing brush. Hiring a tree trimming company freed up his crew, but also cost up to $2,000 a day. With hundreds of stations across the city that needed maintenance, hiring out contractors simply wasn’t cost effective. 

At a Fecon “Demo Day” in 2011, Welsh looked into the possibility of attaching the CEM36 mulcher head onto an excavator, which the district already owned. Welsh explained that MSDGC has limited resources, and the funds allocated for facilities maintenance are even more limited. “We don’t like to buy anything unless it has a payback within five years, which we expected with this equipment,” he said. 

A year later, he was sending out one-man teams to the far corners of the county to use the new Fecon equipment. MSDGC owns a Kobelco 140SR excavator, and no modifications were necessary to attach the mulcher head. Now, paperwork and expensive fees of hiring tree-trimming contractors are avoided, and four members of his maintenance crew are freed up to mow lawns, work on landscaping, and perform other facilities maintenance jobs. “There’s plenty of other pressing work they can be doing,” said Welsh. 

The five-man chainsaw crew he used to send out to clear brush could clear about 50 feet per hour, and often had to revisit the same site more than once because material would grow back. With the excavator/mulcher head combo, one operator can trim the brush from the other side of the fence at a rate of 100-200 feet per hour, easily doubling the productivity with one-fifth the manpower.

MSDGC operators transport the excavator/mulcher tandem around to various job sites throughout the city using a city vehicle with a trailer. Additionally, the excavator/mulcher is so effective that they rarely have to double back to a job site to get the clearing done — one visit is all it takes. 

All employees trained to operate the excavator can easily adapt to using the mulcher attachment, so training was not an issue, said Welsh. This allows flexibility in scheduling jobs, as any one of his operator crew can be sent out to cut back growth from fence lines. 

After operating the unit for over a year, MSDGC has yet to find anything that the Fecon Bull Hog couldn’t chop up, even though in some cases they are clearing brush that has been collecting for up to 20 years. Most of the brush is pliable honeysuckle, but often, young trees sprout up near the fence lines. Anything up to 6 inches is easy grinding, but even oak trees up to 15 inches across can be mulched if the crew takes its time. Once ground up, the thick mulch left behind is cosmetically appealing, so MSDGC is able to just leave it lay to decompose. 

At a previous job, Welsh had used a mulcher head attached to the side of a tractor, but he feels that attaching the mulcher head to the excavator makes more sense for MSDGC’s needs, namely, off-road stability and working in hard-to-reach areas. The excavator can move along the road behind the fence and still easily access the brush that needs to be cut on the other side of the fence without complicated maneuvering. 

MSDGC has only had the Fecon mulcher head for a year, but Welsh predicts they’ll use it for up to four weeks every year to cut back brush. The ease of maintenance and reliability of the Fecon equipment initially appealed to him, because of the limited resources he has for equipment maintenance. Cincinnati MSD originally purchased the equipment targeting a five-year payback, and Welsh projects with confidence that will not change now that he has had a chance to operate it. 

Keeping fence lines clear of brush is an important maintenance duty for the security of the many plants and treatment facilities, but certainly not the only one for Welsh and his facilities maintenance crew. By using the Fecon Bull Hog BH300 mulcher head, MSDGC has freed up several crew members to perform other important, more pressing jobs around the city. MSDGC saves money because they don’t need to hire an outside tree trimming contractor, and can get more fence lines clear in less time than ever before. 

With limited resources, the MSDGC facilities group has made at least one job more streamlined and efficient. Thanks to their Fecon Bull Head, maintaining fence lines is made easy. 


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