Natives as alternative forages

What are we doing for farmers?

The purpose of this research aim, led by James Millner (Massey University), is to evaluate native browse shrubs on sheep/beef hill country farms. There is the potential for hill country properties with pockets of unproductive, problematic land to establish native shrubs for soil conservation, habitat enhancement, riparian management and aesthetic value and cultural reasons.

Currently, however, the cost of establishing native shrub species is high in comparison to the non-native tree options. The potential benefits and costs of browsing native shrubs and how to optimally manage them is unknown. These shrubs can provide environmental benefits ranging from erosion control and improved water quality to increased native biodiversity. Still, they may also be able to provide direct financial benefits by providing forage for farm animals, carbon credits and potentially, a source of nectar for honey bees.

The inclusion of native species in this work programme is also part of the kaitiakitanga of the hill country landscape. Maunga are ancestral hill and mountain landmarks of immense cultural significance to contemporary Māori society at individual, whānau, hapū and iwi levels. Over 70% of Māori titled land is in hill country farming. Government policy recognises that Māori have kaitiakitanga interests in native plant species and Māori traditional knowledge. Therefore, as part of this work, research methodology and interpretation of results will be inclusive of a kaupapa Māori approach. A basis of the study is the mātauranga embedded in the Māori names of the native plant species in this research.  As a community of interest, Māori will be engaged “kanohi-ki-te-kanohi, face -to-face” in the research process. The overall expected research outcome of this work is to achieve an integrated view on native shrubs as forage for kaitiakitanga and stewardship of the hill country.

The 3 key achievements of this research to date are:

  1. Analysis of foliage and fine stems from the species utilised in this study indicate that the nutritional quality of these shrubs is generally good, at least as good as Salix Kinuyanagi and likely to be better than summer pasture on many hill country farms.
  2. Development of a mixed methodology approach to meet the cultural and scientific needs, as well as ethical requirements for this research. This research methodology and interpretation of results is inclusive of a kaupapa Māori approach.
  3. Development of a modelling system to analyse the financial outcomes from establishing native shrubs on hill country farms.

Ongoing and planned research

  • Destructive sampling of shrubs will be undertaken to obtain data for biomass allometry analysis which will be used to model shrub productivity and the financial implications of establishing native shrubs on hill country farms.
  • Infra-red spectroscopy will be utilised to establish a predictive relationship with shrub forage quality based on wet chemistry. This approach offers a relatively quick and cost-effective method for assessing forage quality.
  • In vitro fermentation will be conducted using extracted rumen fluid to measure the production of rumen gasses, including methane, from native shrubs.
  • Surveys and interviews will be conducted to gain knowledge of the Mātauranga Māori of the native shrub species in the study.