WOOSTER, Ohio – Ever think of throwing some candy or salad or even potato chips into your cows’ ration? Maybe you should.
These foods contain waste that cattle can eat, just like the more traditional byproducts such as wet brewers and soybean meal.
Although salad and chips may not be the norm, they’re still suitable feed. Plus, there’s a lot of it out there.
For example, each bag of potato chips leaves a waste trail. It begins with the semi loads of potatoes coming into the plant. Some of them are smashed or old and won’t even make it into the building. Trash.
Then there’s the wet, raw potato peels and black spots. Trash.
Even after the chips come through the fryer, some are shaped irregularly or too dark. Trash.
Something has to be done with this trash. Why not feed it to your cows?
Livestock nutritionist Jim Hogue thinks that’s a good idea.
Much of this waste is high in energy and low in cost, making food byproducts a good fit for livestock nutrition, Hogue told producers at the Professional Dairy Heifer Growers Northeast Regional Conference Nov. 9.
At the store. Walk down the grocery aisles and look at all the processed food, he said. Behind each one is a waste stream, and that waste is a liability to manufacturers, but it’s costly to dump it all in a landfill.
An alternative is for farmers to buy the waste, fit it into their nutritional goals and feed it to their livestock – at a cost lower than corn.
Benefits are that more cattle can be fed on the same acreage or the same number of animals can be fed even in a bad year, Hogue said.
Using food waste also minimizes the feed bill, without sacrificing the cattle’s performance, he said.
For example, corn is selling for $71 a ton and candy meal at Pennsylvania’s Hershey plant is selling for $65 a ton. That corn still needs to be processed, however the candy meal is a finished product, Hogue said.
In addition, if that candy meal went through a feed pricing program, its energy content may increase its value to $95 a ton, he said.
Downsides, too. Although the cost may be right and the energy high, there are downsides to food waste byproducts.
Food processors aren’t making a livestock commodity. Instead this waste is a liability to them; they want it gone as soon as possible, Hogue said. This means, if a farmer can’t get the waste, he or she will have to find another feed to substitute that month. And if a farmer needs more of the waste, there’s no guarantee he or she can get it.
In addition, the waste is a variable product, he said. Sometimes there’s a lot of spinach in salad mix waste, and sometimes there’s none.
Hogue said it’s a better idea to feed the waste to the feedlot cattle or dairy heifers, and not to the milking cows whose rations shouldn’t be “surprised.”
Particle size can also be an issue. Hogue said he’s seen chocolate measuring 2 cubic feet and 20-pound bricks of licorice. If a farmer chooses this waste, it may drive up the cost for special equipment or labor.
Sometimes it also depends on how close you live to the processor, Hogue said. If it’s a wet product, the cost of transportation may be too high for long hauls.
Moisture content will affect shelf life, he added.
Know the nutrition? Determining the waste’s nutritional value can also be tricky, Hogue said.
Typical forage-testing procedures may not be accurate enough and fat and starch levels may not be factored into energy equations, he said.
Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, however, developed a byproduct analysis method that gives a better nutritional picture, he said.
For example, Hogue figured a waste mixture of burritos, tortillas, flour, and beans has a dry matter content of 58 percent and 16 percent crude protein. It has a good shelf life, he said, but it doesn’t look pretty.
In another case, a farmer is paid to take a company’s fresh vegetable waste. The mixture varies but has about 18 percent dry matter and 18 percent protein, Hogue said. In this case, the farmer feeds it to his feedlot cattle and sells his corn silage.
Hogue figures the top food waste byproducts are:
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