Art. LVII.—On Grasses and Fodder Plants.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 13th September, 1879.]
Among the thousands of species of grasses that grow, and are indigenous to various parts of the world, and very many of which are known to possess peculiarities for which they are esteemed in the several localities, how very little has been done to cultivate them and ascertain their merits under careful test culture, upon various soils, and in differing climates. Excepting the few Poas, Loliums, Bromes, Fescues, and a small number of others, hardly any of the known grasses have been sown and used by farmers and graziers, in either Great Britain, America, Europe, these colonies, and elsewhere. They have been by so-called practical men entirely neglected, and the few men who have devoted themselves to growing and testing them by scientific methods, are small in number, and yet when we consider the enormous interests involved, this seems incomprehensible, knowing, as we all do, that cattle, sheep, horses, and many other creatures that are used as food, or for draught purposes, are principally dependent upon grasses for their sustenance, and that the better the grass, the more of it and its varieties suited to the several conditions, so will be the increase and perfection of the animals fed upon it, and the greater will be the profit to the persons owning the animals eating these grasses.
When, however, any good grass has been cultivated under favourable conditions, cultivation has developed its merits, and its qualities have been changed, or improved. The Loliums (ryes) were originally much less valuable
grasses than at present; they were annuals, or biennials, but from these, Stickney, Pacey, Lawson, and others, by cultivation and management, have produced kinds that they call perennial, and that certainly live on for several years in permanent pastures. The Italians, by carefully saving and sowing the seed under the best conditions, have now established a variety, the seed of which is sold at a high price, and when sown in irrigated meadows, or on sewage farms, gives a yield that is enormous, and so great has been the benefit to British and other farmers, by the improvements made in these two grasses, that without them they could not have produced the same quantity of meat, and could not have obtained a return from their farms and pastures. In America the agriculturists have cultivated and sown some of their indigenous grasses with the greatest profit and benefit to themselves,—the blue grass (Poa compressa) in Kentucky; the red-top (Agrostis rubra) in the Western States; and the Phleum pratense (timothy, cat-tail, etc.), in the Northern States,—and these have been the principal kinds cultivated, although they had such numerous and excellent grasses to choose from.
In the Australian colonies the indigenous grasses, although most excellent ones are found, are gradually being killed out by injudicious burning and over-feeding of stock not allowing them to seed or reproduce themselves by a fair rest, and by other bad management will get less abundant each year, and the grasses now being sown will not beneficially supersede them. A few years since, the Hierochloe redolens was one of the best winter fattening grasses in these districts, and the cattle, sheep, and horses, eagerly sought it out, and fed upon it; now it is rapidly disappearing, and what is left the live stock will soon kill out, as each year it becomes more scarce, and so with many other species here, while in Australia we learn from the writings of Mr. Bacchus, Mr. Bailey, and others, that the kangaroo grass (Anthistiria australis) which used to appear like fields of corn, so vigorous and abundant was it, has now become stunted and is dying out in many parts, and other species also as well as the kangaroo grass; useless or even noxious weeds are taking the places vacated by the nutritious grasses, yet to prevent such disastrous consequences following the reckless destruction of the indigenous grasses, either these grasses should have been fairly treated, or other suitable ones should have been substituted; and there are numbers which could be with advantage sown as can be easily proved. For whenever we understand the full history and description of a grass growing in any place, or where we can grow and test a grass under experimental culture, it is not difficult to predict and describe its worth. When friends of mine in California desired my advice and assistance to find a grass that would bear the climatic conditions of the hot, dry climate of California, I
sent them seeds of the Panicum spectabile and other suitable grasses; and confining ourselves to the growth there of this Panicum, Professor Sanders writes to the “Pacific Rural Press” saying: “I need now only speak of the roots of the Panicum spectabile; a single seed will in one season produce a mat or tussock of stems forming a bunch a foot or more in diameter. From this extends a mass of roots or underground stems. As soon as frosts stop the growth of the top the roots seem to grow with accelerated vigour. At this season (February) of the year many of them are as large as a man's finger, and some of them are a dozen feet in length. They are white, tender, and very juicy, looking somewhat like blanched asparagus stalks. They are far too scarce yet for me to test their economic value as food for hogs, but I have great faith in them. It grows from 3–5 feet in height, and is so dense one can hardly force his way any distance through it.” And when they wrote to me from Queensland that they wanted some grass to stand close feeding, and that would not die out, I sent them some of our New Zealand couch; and having tested it, they write to say it is the very thing for their purpose, as they have nothing like it for feeding stock. And the same kind of testimony comes from any part of the world where they will sow the appropriate grasses, and give the proper treatment.
In all countries there are to be be found growing grasses that are not only useful in the place where they are native, but they may be beneficially introduced to all appropriate localities to increase the amount of feed upon each acre of pasture land.
In this country many of the indigenous grasses are of excellent quality, and it is a very great mistake that they are not carefully cultivated, and the seed sown in the meadows amongst other kinds; and now that the labours of Dr. Hector and Mr. Buchanan and others have by their truly admirable work, both literary and pictorial, on the New Zealand grasses—a work which reflects the greatest credit on its compilers, teaching all easily to learn the merits of the indigenous grasses—it will be well for the farmer and grazier to collect seed and cultivate it, and, having done so, to sow it in proper localities.
The Queensland Government has, also, published a most excellent illustrated work on the native grasses of that colony, being some of the results of the most useful and scientific labour of Mr. Bailey and others in their investigation of the causes of disease in live stock, and the cause of the grasses disappearing. The Queensland Government are taking the best possible means to benefit all true colonists, as if they succeed in arresting the dying-out of the native grasses, and introducing the most suitable exotic kinds, no efforts could be directed to a more useful purpose.
In these new countries we do not know how good many plants may be until they are properly tried, and it is only by actual experiment that we
can be sure of the merits of such proposed introductions, but all the labour, expense, and trouble of numbers of introductions may be repaid by only a few things that turn out to be really useful and worthy, and in grasses this has been proved especially to be the case, as those grasses mentioned in my former papers to this Society will show, and yet there remain very many amongst the hundreds I have sown and experimented with that show they would be very useful if sown by the farmers and graziers to increase the feed in their pastures.
I purpose to add, before concluding this paper, some other grasses to those before described that are desirable to cultivate to increase the herbage for the places and times indicated.
When it is remembered how vast are the interests that are involved in keeping up the pastures to the best possible condition, it seems marvellous the little interest that is taken, by even farmers or graziers themselves, in grasses and grass-culture; so long as a little rye-grass seed and a little white clover seed is scattered over the field—they are satisfied. The live stock is then turned out, either to kill it by over feeding-down, or, by constantly trampling over the grass and ground, to reduce its power of growth to the lowest, and then finally to kill it. This is all the knowledge and care taken about the matter; but it is soon seen how little stock can be kept to the acre by such plans, and how impossible it is that land can be profitable under such treatment when used to depasture animals upon.
It is put forward by some persons who have not fully considered this question, that foddering or stall-feeding, or shutting up the live stock and supplying them with all their food, which must be specially grown for them by hand, is the most advantageous course to pursue, but except under very peculiar circumstances this is impossible. It becomes a question of cost of production, and the meat markets of the world regulate the profit or loss upon this matter. Even in Great Britain, with cheap labour and a full knowledge of how to produce the greatest amount of fodder at the cheapest rates, the cost is so great that meat has risen to an almost prohibitive price; and now the Americans, taking advantage of their large grazing fields, where grass is at present abundant, because the population to the square mile is small in numbers, are pouring in meat to the British markets, and making it impossible fer the men who are hand-feeding their animals to compete with them. If, therefore, meat production will not bear the cost of hand-feeding of live stock in Great Britain, where the meat consumers are numerous and labour for feeding cattle cheap and abundant, it certainly will not pay to hand-feed in this colony where all these conditions are different. As a large proportion of this population must gain their means of living by meat and wool production, it follows that they must
devote themselves to studying and working out the best means of grazing the largest quantity of live stock the area can fairly and profitably carry.
Instead of allowing the sheep or cattle to roam over the whole of the pastures at once, destroying more food than they eat, and searching for the small patches of grass they prefer the taste of and neglecting the others, it will be necessary to divide the land into small hedge-enclosed paddocks, and by putting in a sufficient quantity of animals, cause them to eat the whole of the grass in a few days, and then remove them all into the next inclosure, and give the one they leave a rest, long enough for the grass to grow up healthily, before the stock are placed upon it again. And as there is often a difference in a very short distance in the chemical constituents of the soil and subsoil, in the wetness or dryness of the soil or subsoil, of the flat or hilly character, of the easterly or westerly exposure—giving it earlier or later sun-light impact (for it is well-known to scientists that the angle of incidence with which sun-light is able to strike land will materially alter its power of growing differing plants), the exposure or otherwise of the several pieces of land to prevailing winds, its mechanical condition of looseness or cohesion, and its condition of tillage,—these, and many others, will enable the man with knowledge to choose the right kinds of grasses to sow down on his several enclosures, and then by sowing as many of the proper kinds as possible upon each enclosure, the live stock will meet with a constant change of food, and will thus thrive and come to maturity at the earliest date, and give the largest return for the invested capital. And as neither animals nor plants can live without suitable chemical elements are supplied to them, and as the different species of grasses take up and assimilate different quantities and qualities of chemical elements, so the animals fed upon ground carrying such grasses can thus readily obtain the material they require to build up their tissues and organs. Again, each species of grass has its own particular season of greatest perfection, some in the summer, some in the winter, others in the spring, and others in the autumn, and the seasons of greatest growth also very materially differ; for while the Briza, Alopecurus, and the Anthoxanthum, are growing fastest in spring, and certain of the Panicums, Andropogons, Anthisteria, etc., in summer; the Fescues and Phleums, in autumn; the Poas, the Bromes, and others in winter—therefore, the latitude, elevation above sea level, and many other conditions, will regulate the species and varieties of grass to sow; but as there are such numbers to select from in the numerous grasses of the world, there will be no difficulty found in choosing a large number of the best kinds for all sorts and conditions of pastures. Not only is it well to get grasses and fodder plants from other countries, and endeavour to grow and acclimatize them here, but to select the finest seeds from the best
plants, and thus by careful selection secure the finest varieties; but, also, it is well to choose some that are earlier, or later, or hardier than others, and by sowing these kinds, and saving the seeds from the earliest, latest, and hardiest of these again, gradually to work up to a standard of excellence that the original did not possess, and, by continuing this process, after a time a variety will be attained that will possess and maintain a distinct character, and be perpetuated as a distinct kind or race.
By this process are plants acclimatized, and those that at first are with difficulty cultivated, or even made to grow in a locality, are, in successive generations, after a careful selection of their seeds and plants raised from these seeds, brought to adapt themselves to the climate and conditions of their new home, and it is my experience that thus grasses and other plants may be not only acclimatized here, but their characters may be changed in the directions that the experimenter may wish or see desirable. But in spite of the assertion of those who do not know what can be done, “That acclimatization is impossible,” and “that it is impossible to change the character of plants;” in this, and other respects, we have only to remember the hundreds of plants that are now growing in Europe and America, that came from very different climates, and how greatly they have been changed and grown into the numerous varieties and kinds at the will of the gardeners, orchardists, and agriculturists, who have taken the trouble and time to establish a new race or variety of grass or other plants possessing particular excellence.
We will now proceed to consider the special merits of a few more kinds of grasses that may be advantageously grown in New Zealand, distinguishing those that are most suitable for culture in the summer only, or at that season being most useful by their more vigorous growth while the hot and dry season lasts, and which, introduced into the northern parts of these islands, will maintain their verdure and vigour while other grasses are parched up with the heat and drought.
I will also point out a few others that have proved themselves hardy enough to be introduced into the South, and that I have found will grown during the autumn and winter, when the summer grasses are at rest, or have ceased to be so nutritious.
Andropogon montanus.—This fine grass during the summer is one that the cattle, sheep, and horses much relish, it is a good grass here during summer and autumn, and in northern districts it has a longer season than further south; it should be sown by all graziers in warm climates where grass not suited to such climates will be useless.
Euchlæna luxurians, the teosint or reana grass.—Having tried this magnificent grass for two years, it appears to promise to be a grass that, in
warm, dry situations, will give more herbage to the acre than anything else, where the climate suits; but it would be better suited to cut for hand-feeding than for the live stock to graze upon it. It grows in warm sheltered situations from 12–15 feet high, and quickly forms a plant 4–6 feet in diameter, while its stems are not so tough and coarse as maize, but green and succulent in all parts. It will be found very valuable in northern districts more than in southern ones, but it is more adaptable to situations of lower temperature than would be thought from its appearance, and from the fact that it is a native of Mexico and adjoining places.
Festuca rubra.—One of the best of the fescues, as its foliage is readily eaten by sheep or cattle; and as it grows on into the cool season, and in sheltered spots through the winter, it is a good addition to mixed pasture.
Festuca dives.—This magnificent grass, which I received from Australia and from several correspondents after some trouble, as its seeds are often unfertile, was, at length, obtained as live plants; and, by division of roots and careful attention to seed, I was enabled to propagate, increase, grow, and test its value; and it is one that, when once by careful selection a variety is obtained, will perfect its seeds. No better grass will be found by the grazier or pastoralist, as its period of growth is so long that summer and winter it is growing here, and as it is a very fattening grass it deserves to be planted extensively.
Echinochloa zenkowski.—Having received seeds of this grass from several parts of the world, I find there are several varieties thus named, some of much more vigorous habit than others; but they all grow rapidly, are relished by stock, and from the great abundance of seed they bear quickly, spread, and cover the ground.
Mountain grass of California.—A grass was sent to me by Mr. Mavity of California, under this name, to test and experiment with, as it was considered, by those who knew it, a good and useful grass. Having subjected it to test culture, I am able to speak very favourably of it. It is a brome grass of very hardy habit, and will grow upon the poorest clays, stand both wet and dry climates, continues to grow and send up its stems for the greater part of the year when not grazed down too closely; its foliage is darker in colour than most bromes. It is much relished by the live stock, and it is in every way a valuable addition to our grasses for permanent pasture, and may be sown with advantage over a wide range of climate.
Panicum maximum, or Guinea grass.—This grass, which grows so vigorously in the hottest weather, ceases to make so much herbage when the autumn is getting cooler, but in the hot northern portions of the colony it is a very suitable grass for quickly fattening the animals fed upon it, and they are very fond of it, especially cattle and horses. In the
southern and cooler parts it only grows in the summer, and rarely continues to grow sufficiently fast to be of service in mixed pasture.
Panicum parviflorum.—A good grass in spring, summer, and autumn, when it is greedily sought for by sheep and other animals, and if fairly treated will greatly add to the yield per acre if sown in a mixture of grasses.
Panicum virgatum is a good grass for the Northern Island of New Zealand, and will hold its own against other quick-growing grasses; and as live stock thrive upon it, it may be recommended as a pasture mixture.
Poa compressa, or blue grass of the Central United States of America, is a rapid-growing, valuable pasture grass, grows at all seasons of the year, and quickly forms a thick turf, but, as it is difficult to eradicate, it is not well to sow it on any place that is not intended for permanent pasture.
Poa chinensis.—This admirable pasture grass, which grows very rapidly in the summer and autumn, and also in the winter although not so vigorously, is a good fattening grass, grows from two to three feet high, relished by stock, but does not perfect much fertile seed in this climate.
Poa sempervirens is a valuable grass, as it grows on throughout the year with less regard to changes of temperature than most other grasses, and it is one of the best Poas to sow with mixed grasses, as its constantly green herbage and vigorous power enable it to withstand the trampling of stock and constant feeding of its nutritious foliage.
Poa brownii, or Eragrostis brownii.—A very excellent grass to add to our pastures, as it is very good to fatten cattle, grows in any soil and keeps growing all the year round, remaining green.
Panicum crus galli.—A fine and succulent grass, would be found useful on moist land and by the side of watercourses. As it has a creeping habit, it would not be advisable except in land intended for permanent pasture.
Panicum ciliare.—This is a hardy grass, deserving of greater use for pasture, as it has fattening properties and is liked by cattle, and I think would be advisable as a mixture with other grasses.
Danthonia racemosa.—This grass, by test cultivation, is found to be hardy, with fine nutritious qualities, and bears a heavy amount of stock-feeding upon it, suffering less than most grasses. It also holds its own amongst rye, clover, and other grasses; so deserves to be more generally known.
Festuca hookeriana.—A perennial grass of excellent character, and well-adapted for the climate of New Zealand. It grows here above 2 feet high, and produces a quantity of herbage.
Festuca heterophylla.—This grass likes a dry soil, and as it is growing at all seasons of the year might be sown with advantage.
Festuca loliacca.—A grass much to be recommended for marshy lands or river-flats. It produces a good quantity of highly nutritious herbage,
grows from 2 to 3 feet high, and will grow on lands that other grasses cannot thrive upon.
Avena elatior.—This grass grows through the spring and autumn most strongly; and as stock appear to select it in preference to rye, and as, upon analysis, it is found to contain a fair proportion of easily assimilable elements, it should be sown in mixed pastures. It may be sown both in the northern and southern districts; provided the soil is not too dry, it will succeed as a good useful grass.
Melilotus leucantha, or Bokhara clover, is a hardy biennial, growing 8 feet high, and yielding an enormous quantity of herbage for hay or fodder. All stock eat it readily; but it should not be sown too thinly, as it then grows much higher and the stalks become woody, and the stock do not relish it so much. As it is only a biennial, it is best for alternate husbandry.
Symphytum asperrimum, the prickly comfrey, still continues to grow and yields plenty of leaves from the roots before described. All kinds of stock like, and thrive upon it.
Sorghum vulgare is a splendid grass, which, under different local names and in different varieties, is now engaging a very large amount of attention. As I have obtained and grown these several varieties of Sorghum, and tested their powers and merits, I will give the result of my experience:—From California, Egypt, India, Southern Europe, and elsewhere, I obtained seeds of these Sorghums, and found that those obtained from warmer climates than this were delicate at first, and took some trouble to get them to perfect their seed, but that, by the second or third sowing, the acclimatization had so far progressed that the germination commenced in the open ground the first warm weather in October, and continued to grow during the summer, and perfected seed during autumn, in some varieties giving two crops of seed, the first heads being gathered as soon as ripe, and the second then ripening faster. The varieties that seem to do best in this climate are hereafter described by the local names that they are generally known by in other countries.
The Egyptian Corn is a brown-seeded Sorghum, now much cultivated, with heads drooping downwards, and that grows very rapidly, producing an immense quantity of succulent stems and foliage that makes an excellent food for animals, which, cut green, will yield many tons of fodder to the acre, and will, if allowed to ripen its seed, yield a larger weight of corn than most other plants to the acre, having in several instances given over 10lbs. to each plant, or 100 bushels of cleaned grain nett per acre. This grain is eaten by animals, and in Egypt and India by men, cooked and eaten in various ways.
The Durra, or Doura, is a white-seeded Sorghum, whose seed-heads droop downwards, which is rather less hardy than the brown-seeded variety, but
which grows a very large quantity of nutritious herbage to the acre, in rich land often as much as forty tons to the acre, which will feed milking cows, fattening bullocks or sheep, horses and other animals, or if allowed to ripen its seed will yield a great quantity, often ninety bushels of clean grain to the acre, which will grind into a white flour that is much used in India, California, and elsewhere.
Sorghum halepensis is a white-seeded kind with heads that remain upright and do not droop; this is an excellent sort for saving for ripe corn, and when ground into meal its white flour is of good colour and taste, and contains those elements that mark it out as a valuable food-plant. In China and other parts of Asia, where it is grown, it is considered a valuable cereal; and I think would be a valuable plant both for its corn, and also as a fodder plant, as the domestic animals will eat it green or dried.
Sorghum saccharatum.—The several varieties of this grass that I tested from various parts of China, Thibet, and other parts of Asia, were more or less hardy at first, and the first growths contained different quantities of sugar in their expressed juice and in their tissues, as proved by either fermenting and calculating the distillates of alcohol, or testing them by chemical re-agents; but after a few years sowing their hardiness increased, or they adapted their growth more to our seasons and climate, while the amount of sugar they developed, showed that many of them were most valuable fodder plants, and would rapidly fatten animals, either cut green, or when preserved in pits, or silos, and that the enormous quantity of herbage per acre they produced, would repay the trouble and labour taken to grow them, by the meat and milk they would produce.
Broom Corn.—A variety of Sorghum vulgare produced by selective culture in America, can be grown here and furnish the broom-makers with the parts they require, that is the expanded panicle; both the large and dwarf varieties ripened seed with me, but as they are not so excellent as a fodder plant as some other varieties, and although pigs, fowls, and other domestic animals eat the seeds, yet the other varieties are better for the meat and milk producer.
A variety of Imphee, called Red Imphee or Siberian perennial, grows well during the hot weather, and being hardier than the other Imphee, may be recommended, as it gives a large quantity of fodder during the summer and autumn here, and will be even better further North.
The hardy sugar-cane, developed and grown in Minesota, and called “Kennedy's Amber Minesota,” grows well as a fodder-plant here, and the quantity of saccharine in it makes it much relished by live stock, and soon fattens them; while the farmers can obtain a syrup from its juice which will answer the purposes to which sugar is often applied, and in the warmer
parts of this colony, I have no doubt, this cane would be a most useful plant, both for live stock and for its sugar-bearing qualities, which might be utilized in many ways.
The Penicillaria spicata—East Indian pearl millet grows here during the hottest and driest weather, and gives from each root a very large quantity of herbage, as it grows several feet high and 3 feet in diameter. For the north of this island, where other plants will not grow, it is most valuable. Either cut green, or made into hay, it has been known to produce during the year, when cut several times, 9 1/2 tons of dry hay to the acre, which was quite tender and sweet, and readily eaten by the cattle.
The Cobbet-corn, or forty-day maize, is very hardy and prolific; although a dwarf kind of maize, it can be sown more closely than the taller-growing varieties, and ripens its corn and arrives at perfection in southern localities where the other kinds do not so easily ripen. It can be saved for its seeds, which horses readily eat, or cut green for fodder, or put away in silos and fed to the live stock in winter. It has proved itself a very quick grower, and ripened well with me.
The White-dent Corn.—A valuable maize of the best kind to grow for domestic use, as being semi-transparent, white, hard, and of good flavour; its flour, when grown, is good for private use or export; after its cobs are removed its stalks and dry leaves are readily eaten by live stock.
Rice Corn.—A small variety of maize that yields a pretty little transparent grain, that may be ground into a good flour, or the whole plant may be given to live stock, either green or dry.
Sugar Corn.—Several varieties of maize under this name were obtained from America and elsewhere, and grown. There are several of these varieties well worthy of introduction here as fodder-plants, as they contain a large percentage of sugar. When their cobs have formed grains somewhat hardened, they are best to be cut at this period, as, if then either fed to animals green, or placed in silos according to the French plan, and well trodden down, and covered so that the air is excluded, they may be cut out in the winter, and animals then rapidly fattened and thus got ready for the butcher, when, by reason of the temperature and want of other herbage, very few fat stock are obtainable.
In America the cobs of these sugar corns are gathered while soft, or before fully ripe, and cooked and eaten, and if any one will try the experiment they will find this an excellent vegetable.
The Sweet Corns are other varieties of maize not having quite as large a proportion of sugar as the sugar corn, but are very useful.
The above-written are the grasses and fodder-plants that carefully-conducted experiments have proved to me can be grown in New Zealand
with advantage and profit to the graziers and farmers. The results of investigation only are given. As to detail, the course of experiment would take up too much time and space, as the growth, analysis, and experiments in succeeding years, of each particular grass would occupy more than the whole of this paper, and the end would be that only a very few men devoted to scientific methods and pursuits would care to follow the history of experiment of each grass in my different experimental plots in the several localities where my stations or grounds are situated; but by giving the results, and pointing out the suitableness of a particular grass or fodder-plant, these results may be turned into money by those who may select and grow these plants for the feeding of stock on their pastures or farms, while by bringing these results before this learned Society, composed of men engaged in so many different pursuits and living in so extended an area, the knowledge of new and suitable plants to give increased feeding-power, will through this Society be brought to the knowledge of a very extended body of colonists, who will be able if they please to practically and profitably apply this information.