Journal Review: The Digestibility of Hemp in Cattle Feed

Looking at the entire hemp plant as a potential source of income, rather than just the flower, opens the door to possibilities. The flowering portion of the plant gives us the extracts that go into so many popular consumer products. But, the rest of the plant has many potential uses.

Looking at the stalk especially, and its high concentration of cellulose, there may be a use for it in cattle feed.

A recent series of studies, released by a team at Kansas State University (KSU), is shedding light on this particular use for hemp.

Cannabinoids and cows

Two studies recently took place at Kansas State University, led by Dr. Hans Coetzee and Dr. Michael Kleimhenz. They looked at industrial hemp and cattle feed, specifically in relation to cows.

The studies allowed the team to safely establish cannabinoid concentrations in livestock through exposure to industrial hemp.

The goal was to see if residual hemp plant fibers, the leaves, stems, etc. that aren’t used for extraction, could serve as foodstuffs for animals. Cows were the chosen test subject due to hemp plants being predominantly cellulose.

Previous testing was mostly with humans, mice, and pigs, with very little work done evaluating hemp and cattle. Cows are actually experts at digesting cellulose plant material without any assistance though.

It’s thanks to the rumen

Why do cows make such good digesters of hemp? It’s because of the rumen. This is the largest stomach compartment in the cow, consisting of several sacs. The rumen can hold 25 gallons or more of material, making it like a storage vat for feed.

While the feed sits in the rumen, it absorbs a lot of volatile fatty acids, created through fermentation. With hemp, the rumen converts the plant matter into different nutrients before absorbing them.

It’s like the cow’s digestive system was made for hemp.

The favorites

Results of the studies show that the cow’s digestive system definitely plays favorites when it comes to cannabinoids. Certain ones are more readily absorbed by the rumen than others, including CBDA and THCA. Non-acid cannabinoid forms like CBD and CBG were not.

The worry and wait for approval

Although it seems like feeding cows hemp is ideal, nothing moves forward without permission. This means the Association of American Feed Control Officials must give the inclusion of hemp in animal feed FDA approval.

The hiccup preventing this from happening is, of course, the unknown. It’s still uncertain whether cannabinoid drug residues, digested by the cows, will accumulate in the meat. The highest concern being THC.

This particular aspect of putting hemp in cattle feed has yet to be thoroughly studied.

What comes next

The KSU team, consisting of pharmacologists, toxicologists, analytical chemists, and horticulture experts are ready to take the next step. They want to study residue in both cattle tissue and milk to check for lingering compounds. There’s also interest in exploring how hemp feed may impact animal behavior and immune function.

Since KSU grew their own hemp, at one of the university’s horticultural centers, having a consistent supply of the plant won’t be an issue. They’ll for sure know the cannabinoid make-up of the plants they’re feeding to their cattle.

The two studies currently available to review on this topic are, “Nutrient concentrations, digestibility, and cannabinoid concentrations of industrial hemp plant components,” and “Plasma concentrations of eleven cannabinoids in cattle following oral administration of industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa).”

What application will they come up with next?

Studies like these are integral for the hemp industry. They provide hard evidence on the many uses hemp can have. They also illustrate why the plant is such a lucrative investment.

If you’re considering working with hemp, as either a farmer or manufacturer, the best place to start is with a trusted and knowledgeable partner to help guide you. That’s where Arbor Vita8 comes in. As both a processor and wholesaler, our seed-to-sale array of services has you covered. Not only do we have a top-notch facility, but the best contacts when it comes to purchasing seeds, seedlings, or clones. We’re here to help you succeed with hemp. Contact us today to learn more.


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