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