Cannabis biomass as animal feed

Close up of a cows nose with the title of the blog- cannabis biomass as animal feed

Cannabis biomass as animal feed

Cannabis biomass as animal feed

Can cannabis biomass be used as animal feed?

Finding creative ways to deal with plant material left behind after processing hemp hasn’t been easy.  As of right now, the biomass has very little monetary value and often just ends up in the compost pile. Recently though, someone asked a pretty interesting question. Can hemp biomass be used as animal feed? This question has sparked some small scale research with some pretty interesting, albeit, not totally surprising results.

For the past couple of years, small research teams have been quietly conducting trials. They’ve been substituting different amounts of animal feed for hemp in lambs, cows and chickens. These teams are testing the impacts that hemp has on behavior, growth, health and the effect of lingering cannabinoids. What they’ve discovered, might help open up new markets for a budding industry that has had a rocky start. The size of the animal feed industry, locally and internationally, could provide a secondary market for hemp. This would add some stability to this, otherwise, volatile market.

Is Using Biomass As Feed Even Feasible?

On the surface, hemp biomass as animal feed seems like it could be a good idea. It contains more fat and the same amount of protein as alfalfa- the the most commonly use feed at the moment. The preliminary studies taking place in the US show hemp preforming well. After 8 weeks, sheep that were fed hemp seemed to be eating more than the group given only alfalfa. They also showed subtle improvements in body weight. The animals fed hemp also displayed varying impacts on health benchmarks important to livestock producers.

In another study, dairy cows were fed  hemp mixed with their regular feed for 4 weeks. During that time the cows ate less feed but had an increase in milk production. It should be noted that the fat content was slightly lower. While it’s not perfectly clear whether hemp is a more efficient feed, through more research we may be able to discern more positive results.

There’s Some International Research Happening Too

These experiments aren’t only happening in the US; one farm in Thailand is investigating the potential health benefits of administering the hemp feed to chickens. Thailand was the first Asian nation to legalize medical marijuana and has been leading the charge in its destigmatization and social acceptance since 2018. It is no surprise that Thai producers face many of the same challenges as those in the US. One of the biggest issues being a large amount of worthless biomass simply decomposing.

One marijuana producer in Lampang in conjunction with Chiang Mai University has been feeding 1000 chickens hemp biomass since January of last year with really promising results. The preliminary studies of The Department of Animal and Aquatic sciences at CMU, claim that chickens given cannabis had higher quality eggs and meat, needed fewer or zero antibiotics and were more resilient to changing weather conditions. These chickens also fetched almost double the price when they finally went to market.

What Could This All Mean?

Despite the positive results at home and away, growers and livestock producers can’t just start using hemp biomass as animal feed, at least according to the FDA. Their concern comes from the amount of cannabinoids, namely THC that will pass from the animal to humans during consumption. Of course, in the US, legally produced hemp contains only .3% THC and spent biomass contains significantly less than that at .07%. Still though, THC did register in the liver of the lambs and the milk of the cows but the levels were obliviously very very small.

In light of recent evidence suggesting that antibiotics in eggs, chicken, milk and other meat can harm consumers’ health, possibly causing allergies and declining immunity. Using cannabis biomass as feed could transform the livestock industry because cannabis, unlike antibiotics does not appear, so far, to have these kinds of side effects. Although more research is needed, the results are encouraging. So encouraging, in fact that the impacts may directly influence hemp production by adding stability to a market that desperately needs it.

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