Volume 12, Number 1 July 23, 2004

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Cats find use for new barley product

By Colleen MacPherson

Attention cat owners: that kitty litter you’re pouring into Fluffy’s box in the basement may well have its origins in an unlikely spot – the barley breeding program at the University of Saskatchewan.

Litter Cats
Absorbency of high-starch barley, bred at the U of S, makes it ideal for a new brand of kitty litter, marketed from Saskatoon.

LitterMate™, a new product made entirely of barley and some common baking soda, was developed by a local company to take advantage of that crop’s unique moisture absorption qualities, qualities bred into the plants by scientists in the Crop Development Centre. These kinds of industrial applications, said U of S plant breeder Brian Rossnagel, have been a consideration in the University’s specialty starch barley program for more than two decades.

Angela Gabruch, project co-ordinator for LitterMate™ and a 2003 graduate of the College of Commerce, said the idea for the natural sourced litter came from a wheat-based kitty litter available in California. Knowing that waxy hull-less varieties of barley like CDC Candle and CDC Alamo, developed by the U of S, have a higher absorption capacity than wheat, InfraReady Products Limited, a Saskatoon-based supplier of food ingredients, created its own product.

Its main selling features are that it is clumpable, flushable, biodegradable, compostable and renewable. “It’s also nice and soft for the cats,” said Gabruch, “and if they get a little hungry, they can eat it, but we don’t necessarily recommend that.”

Now available in Saskatchewan and on a limited basis in Alberta, she said the first major shipment of the litter will be on its way to British Columbia at the end of July.

She added that InfraReady sees LitterMate™ “as a launching pad for other bio-products” like an absorbing agent for use in shops and garages, and to aid in cleaning up environmentally hazardous spills.

Rossnagel said the first proposed industrial use for the high-starch barley varieties was as an absorbent to separate potash from the slurry created when the mineral is mined using a solution system. That never came to pass, he said, but “we saw the value of the (barley’s) stickiness and viscosity”. One current possibility is to use barley as an adjunct to drilling mud used in the oil industry.

Work on specialty starch barley varieties continues to be “an ongoing small part of our barley program”, said Rossnagel.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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