A HEDGE WITH AN EDGE: 6 rea­sons why you need this mon­ster grass

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature Bed & Breakfast - Www.birds­be­safe.com

WHEN WE THINK OF GRASS,

it’s usu­ally the soft, knee-height-at-most pas­ture plant. But a gi­ant ster­ile hy­brid grass that grows to 4m and looks a bit like bam­boo could be the an­swer to a lot of prob­lems on farms, es­pe­cially in Can­ter­bury where many have lost shel­ter­belts in big storms in re­cent years.

A trial of peren­nial grass Mis­cant­hus x gi­gan­teus is un­der­way at the Kir­wee farm of Mark Wil­liams by Lin­coln Univer­sity PHD stu­dent Chris Littlejohn, and these are the ben­e­fits it’s likely to of­fer.

1. It’s a great shel­ter

Littlejohn’s is the first known study look­ing at its value as a shel­ter­belt plant. He says mis­cant­hus can pro­vide good shel­ter for dairy cows at its ma­ture height of 4m, and re­duced mois­ture loss in soils to pro­duce an 8-10% in­crease in grass growth.

“The main func­tion was to re­place the shel­ter­belts that dairy farm­ers cut down be­cause when these enor­mous (ir­ri­ga­tion) piv­ots go in a cir­cle they can’t push through the trees and shrubs. This [plant] pro­vides ex­cel­lent shel­ter for an­i­mals, pas­ture growth down­wind, and when the ir­ri­ga­tion comes along it passes through the growth and it flicks up again.”

Mis­cant­hus reaches its max­i­mum height in late spring and early sum­mer when shel­ter from sun and wind is needed most.

The bonus is that pas­ture plants on the shel­tered side also ben­e­fit: Lin­coln re­search has shown clover plants keep their stom­ata open wider and longer when pro­tected from Nor’west­ers than un­pro­tected plants. This re­sults in an over­all in­crease in pas­ture Dry Mat­ter of 18% within 40m down­wind, and a 20% re­duc­tion in evap­o­tran­spi­ra­tion.

2. It’s highly un­likely to be a pest plant

Mis­cant­hus x gi­gan­teus is a ster­ile hy­brid so it can’t re­pro­duce it­self by seed and spreads only slowly by creep­ing rhi­zomes (about 10cm a year). It’s easily con­trolled by graz­ing or spray­ing, and its roots don’t com­pete with the ad­ja­cent pas­ture, mean­ing grass can grow right up to it. Com­pe­ti­tion with crops is equally slight.

The Lin­coln re­searchers have shown that it also pro­vides habi­tat for bum­ble bees and na­tive skinks, and be­cause it doesn’t pro­duce a thick base, it doesn’t en­cour­age ro­dents like flax does.

3. It’s very easy to main­tain

Es­tab­lish­ment takes about the same amount of work as plant­ing a shel­ter­belt us­ing trees, but af­ter the first full year it is main­te­nance-free, re­quir­ing no thin­ning, trim­ming etc.

4. It can be turned into diesel…

If ir­ri­gated, mis­cant­hus can yield up to 30 tonnes of Dry Mat­ter per hectare, which can be turned into about 9000 litres of re­new­able diesel per hectare at a cost of around $1.10 per litre.

At the most ba­sic end of the scale, baled mis­cant­hus straw can be used in boil­ers as a re­place­ment for coal and as fuel pel­lets for do­mes­tic wood pel­let fires. How­ever, it would take time for these mar­kets to be­come es­tab­lished in New Zealand as it would re­quire spe­cial­ist equip­ment to pro­duce it on a large scale.

5. … or bed­ding

Mis­cant­hus makes good an­i­mal bed­ding as it is a lot tougher than ce­real straw so it lasts longer, and it has other ben­e­fi­cial prop­er­ties such as help­ing to re­duce bad smells. Over­seas, it is par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar as a bed­ding for horses due to its low dust con­tent.

6. … or stock feed

While the live plant is palat­able to stock, as ev­i­denced by cows hap­pily graz­ing the plants in Lin­coln’s field tri­als, it is a low-grade feed. The feed qual­ity falls even lower once plants are dried and har­vested, but it can pro­vide the roughage com­po­nent of a win­ter feed in place of some­thing like ce­real straw.

THE AV­ER­AGE PET CAT IN NZ,

city or coun­try-liv­ing, kills wild prey at least once a month, but prob­a­bly more as re­searchers can only count what a cat brings home to show its owner.

Of that, al­most half of its prey will be na­tive birds or skinks, the rest ex­otic birds, rats and mice.

Put a bell on your cat’s col­lar and its kill rate of all wildlife falls by around half. But put a bright Birds­be­safe col­lar on

® and two dif­fer­ent stud­ies in the US and Aus­tralia found the num­ber of birds it can catch falls dra­mat­i­cally, of­ten to none.

The science be­hind the col­lar is that birds see colours dif­fer­ently to hu­mans – see Your Poul­try on page 57-58 for more in­for­ma­tion on the eye­sight of chick­ens – and its bright colours and pat­terns warn birds of a cat’s ap­proach.

In a study by St Lawrence Univer­sity in New York, more than 50 cats took part in tri­als in spring and au­tumn. Cats wear­ing the col­lar in spring killed 19 times fewer birds than un­col­lared cats, while in the au­tumn trial it was 3.4 times fewer birds.

The re­searchers found it took cats on av­er­age about 1-2 days to get used to the col­lar.

In a sec­ond study in Western Aus­tralia, re­searchers fol­lowed 114 pet cats over two years and found the rain­bow­coloured col­lars workedd best specif­i­cal­lylly at pre­vent­ing cats cap­tur­ing birds ds with good colour vi­sion (47-54% re­duc­tion) but didn’t seem that ef­fec­tive at pre­vent­ing cats cap­tur­ing mam­mal or large in­ver­te­brate prey.

The Birds­be­safe cat col­lar is the in­ven­tion of Nancy Bren­nan, a cat owner from Ver­mont in the US. She was frus­trated by the num­ber of birds her cat Ge­orge was killing in the wood­land around her home. She didn’t want to keep him per­ma­nently con­fined to the house so she sewed a bright, clown­like col­lar and mon­i­tored his kill rate. It dropped dra­mat­i­cally, and over time she also no­ticed his be­hav­iour changed; he tended to spend more time in­side, even dur­ing his pre­vi­ously favourite hunt­ing time of dawn.

Nancy says the sci­en­tific re­search back­ing up her and her cus­tomers’ ex­pe­ri­ences has be been hum­bling and grat­ify grat­i­fy­ing. “I cred credit the suc­cess of the prod­uct in pa part to the cus­tomers who took a chance to try my so­lu­tion in the first years and en­cour­aged me with their re­sults and per­sonal cat sto­ries. I have had the great­est cus­tomers in that re­gard. And then, af­ter about three years, science stud­ies came along at the right time, to help me en­vi­sion the day when the prod­uct would play a sig­nif­i­cant role in bird-sav­ing.

“Quite hon­estly, the mis­sion was - and is - all about sav­ing birds. I saw that I could make a dif­fer­ence and so I have just tried my best.”

The col­lar is a loop of fab­ric that fits around a break-away col­lar so a cat won’t get trapped if it snags. Another ben­e­fit is the cat is more vis­i­ble to driv­ers at night.

The Birds­be­safe cat col­lar is sold world­wide:

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