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Hemp feed for livestock?

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

Not so fast...

The U.S. is coming out of a multi-decade prohibition of hemp and cannabis and it has the agricultural industry jumping. A new hemp based product appears almost daily on U.S shelves. It has the many asking, what can't we use hemp for? Hemp is being used all over the globe for human consumption, for our pets, but, what about our livestock? The answer is debated but many are finding that hemp is absolutely safe, and as well as beneficial, to both people, their pets and livestock. Hemp's reintroduction into the industrial market has moved it from nowhere to be found to cash crop status in the U.S. in a very short time. Starting in 2014 and increasing at the end of 2017 after it regained it's federally legal status in the U.S. Not only do you see hemp growing in demand for it's pharmaceutical properties, such as CBD oil, but it has another 50,000 (and growing) uses. Just a few to name a few top sellers are fiber, bio-fuel, textiles, and food - for humans that is. With all these uses it has many people asking what can't this plant do, and with good reason. Those people are finding new uses for hemp everyday, from clothing, structural building materials, protein powder, to pain, anxiety and muscle spasticity relief for both humans and their pets. But strange as it sounds with so much use for humans and our pets, as of today it is still not approved in the U.S. as an ingredient for use in livestock or animal feed. As of April 2019, no hemp or hemp products have been approved or defined through available regulatory processes for use in animal feed or pet food. Therefore, hemp and hemp products may not be lawfully used in animal feed or pet food at this time within the United States. New studies in the industry are starting to be conducted in the area. Such as the one started in 2017 in Colorado. This ongoing study should help us see the positive and negative long term effects of using hemp in livestock feed. 

What's holding us back?

The hold up is THC. The Food and Drug administration views hemp as an altering substance. THC is the psychoactive compound found in hemp. Although it already starts with a very low THC content, .3% or lower as apposed to Cannabis - which is about .5% or higher, the question is how much THC will be transferred into the livestock as they ingest it? At this point there haven't been enough tests to say for sure what the effect would is - good or bad. But there are many individuals who already use hemp in their livestock feed and would like to see it become more widely used so they can also sell it as feed. In other countries they claim adding hemp to their livestock feed has greatly benefited the milk production, digestion/weight gains and final flavor. Let's take a more in depth look at the hemp by-product that would be fed to the animals. Hemp grain is the raw materials chopped up and used to extract the seeds and oil, hemp seed meal or hemp seed cake is the by-product of cold pressing the hemp seeds to extract oil. Although the oil is taken out the product what remains still retains a very high amount of omega-3, omega-6 fatty acids, protein, fiber and other beneficial amino acids. This is ideal for animal feed, and at this point, just thrown away as a waste product. There has even been one study done on hemp seed cake and the effect of lowering methane emissions in cattle. You read that right. Could we even reduce the carbon footprint of cattle by feeding them hemp?  ​So far we are seeing the benefits of hemp feed cattle in places like Canada, Denmark and Holland where they have been using hemp oil products for years in their livestock feed with reportedly better health of their cattle and higher milk yields. Which makes many say, why are we waiting so long? Looking forward, there could be many hemp ingredients like hemp protein seed or oil in our livestock feed, specifically for cattle, swine, poultry and fish. This could be especially beneficial in industries like aquaculture, since fish obtain all their omega-3 fatty acids from their food - usually seaweed. Interestingly, in a study done by NCSU Prestage Department of Poultry Science, chickens which were fed hemp seed cake saw chickens with greater weight than those fed other forms of feed. An important detail of this study was that the researchers found no residual traceable THC levels. This can only lead us to ask more questions about the benefits of hemp to both livestock and humans.  I expect we'll keep seeing a rise in products made with hemp, as well as studies done on it's effects in the coming years. It's exciting to see where hemp will go as it shows itself to be a very versatile industrial crop.

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