Turning a by-product of CBD agriculture into feed for cows, pigs, chickens and sheep

What happens if you feed cannabis to sheep?

This is a question you can expect from someone who uses cannabinoids, rather than studying it.

But researchers in Oregon are asking this question – particularly about hemp – in an effort to unlock its potential as a cash crop.

The Oregon hemp industry currently produces two main cannabidiol, or CBD, products: oil and a more specialized smoking flower. Producers working in the CBD oil market often hire processors to extract the oil from the hemp. This process leaves behind large amounts of plant matter. And right now, that biomass is of little value.

“Nobody knows what to do with this material…. So if you just use it as animal feed, it will really be a cheap source of another animal feed, ”said Serkan Ates, who teaches in the Department of Animal and Pathways Sciences at Oregon State University.

A close-up view of hemp.

Fish and Wildlife of the United States

OSU scientists working with Global Hemp Innovation Center are studying whether this depleted hemp biomass can be used to feed sheep, dairy cows and poultry.

“We see that there is great potential so far,” said Ates.

Over the past two years, his team has conducted research trials substituting different amounts of feed for hemp in lambs and cows. They are testing the impact of this hemp on the growth, health and behavior of animals, as well as the presence of THC in animal systems.

“The material is available. We have a lot of cattle in Oregon, a lot of dairy farms. Not so many sheep, but we also have sheep too. So technically we should be able to feed these cattle with this material, ”Ates said.

The answers they find could open up a new market for an industry that got off to a rough start.

“I don’t know if the fiber – or the post-mined biomass – is the most valuable part of the plant,” said Jacob Crabtree, CEO of the Oregon-based company. Columbia Hemp Trading Company. “But when you look at a sustainable market and don’t waste any part of that factory and get the most out of it, you absolutely have to look at those markets,”

Growing pains

After the United States Growing industrial hemp fully legalized in 2018, Oregon growers and processors jumped on both feet. But they quickly discovered that the pool was cold and much shallower than expected.

Hemp was not the agricultural Xanadu that many thought it would be.

“I think during the 2019 season it felt like a gold rush. I don’t know if I will ever see such a rapid change in agricultural land use from a crop that was previously prohibited, ”said Gordon Jones, who works with hemp growers as part of his position at OSU Southern Oregon Research and Extension. Center at Central Point.

Thousands of hectares have been converted to hemp production statewide. Rogue Valley in southern Oregon had some of the highest hemp concentrations in the county. Very early on, pear orchards were phased out, hay production replaced, and fallow fields were suddenly tucked away in the black plastic so commonly used to grow hemp.

In 2019, approximately 64,000 acres have been authorized with the Oregon Department of Agriculture (even if everything was not necessarily crashed). But at the end of the season, the weather turned bad in some areas, ruining much of the harvest. Despite this, the markets on the whole were inundated with hemp.

“I’m always talking to growers who in their barns have their 2019 harvest in big bins of chopped dry biomass awaiting extraction or they have barrels or containers of extracted cannabinoid, CBD, waiting and looking for markets, ”Jones mentioned. “I talk to other growers who point their fingers at the compost pile and tell me that this is where their 2019 harvest went. “

FILE - In this file photo from April 23, 2018, Trevor Eubanks, plant manager for Big Top Farms, prepares a field for another hemp crop near Sisters, Ore.

FILE – In this file photo from April 23, 2018, Trevor Eubanks, plant manager for Big Top Farms, prepares a field for another hemp crop near Sisters, Ore.

Don Ryan / AP

In 2020, the authorized acres in Oregon fell to about 27,500. This year, it’s closer to 7,000.

There is volatility in the industry and growers are looking for stabilization so that they can start to get a feel for how big hemp could be.

The development of a secondary market could help to ensure this stability.

“I could sell spent hemp biomass for less than five cents a pound. But the market it’s heading into, the animal feed market, is a massive, massive, massive market internationally, ”said Crabtree, CEO of the hemp company.

Do sheep have food cravings?

On the surface, depleted hemp biomass is a high-quality animal feed, with as much protein and more fat as alfalfa, another commonly used feed.

“When you look at the chemical makeup perspective, depleted hemp biomass, in most cases, is better than alfalfa,” Ates said.

To test the quality and effect of hemp-based foods on sheep, OSU scientists substituted hemp for alfalfa in different amounts and for different durations. The sheep were given 10% or 20% hemp for four or eight weeks.

Compared to the control, the preliminary results show that the hemp behaved well. After eight weeks, the hemp-fed sheep mostly ate more than the group that received only alfalfa, with slight improvements in body weight. Hemp has also shown varying impacts – some potentially positive and others somewhat confusing – on health parameters important to livestock producers.

For dairy cows, the researchers fed the cows 15% hemp for four weeks. The cows ate less during and immediately after this period. Despite this, the first data showed that they produced more milk, but with a slightly lower fat content.

And at American Chemical Society fall 2021 meeting, the researchers reported that for lambs, “10% (depleted hemp biomass) can be included in ruminant diets without causing an adverse effect on performance with a possible positive effect on alimentary consommation. “

Further analysis will be needed before researchers can draw a full conclusion whether hemp is actually a more effective food.

In this photo from May 19, 2015, a sack of shredded hemp about to be made into pulp and used for paper and other products sits on a table at Pure Vision Technology, a biomass plant in Fort.  Lupton, Colorado.

In this photo from May 19, 2015, a sack of shredded hemp about to be made into pulp and used for paper and other products sits on a table at Pure Vision Technology, a biomass plant in Fort. Lupton, Colorado.

Brennan Linsley / AP

“But even if it’s not more efficient… the important thing is: can we replace alfalfa or any type of conventional food with depleted hemp biomass? If we can do that, you will be able to reduce the cost of the feed, ”Ates said.

Researchers will test hemp as a feed for poultry in early 2022.

That damn THC

Despite the positive results, hemp growers and cattle ranchers cannot just start using depleted hemp biomass for animal feed.

“The problem is the level of THC – whether or not the FDA will allow animals to feed hemp at the end of the day. If they do, then I’m sure we can give it to the animals,” he said. Has your.

THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, which gets you high.

The hemp plant is the same species as marijuana. But the uses of plants and the way they are regulated differ considerably. Legally grown hemp contains less than 0.3% THC. According to data from Columbia Hemp Trading Company, there is four times less than that in depleted hemp biomass (0.07% total THC).

The United States Food and Drug Administration is still concerned that THC may pass from animals to humans when consuming lamb or milk.

“The FDA … has no guidelines or what’s called the ‘tolerable dose’ … which is the total amount of any compound you can eat per day without consequences,” said Massimo Bionaz of the OSU, research co-investigator.

THC was recorded in the liver of lambs and the milk of cows fed hemp, but the amounts were very low.

“Considering the data we have obtained so far, yes there are cannabinoids. Is it important for humans? I don’t think so, ”Bionaz said. “However, the FDA decides, not us.”

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