Dairy Cows – The Ultimate Recyclers

Author: Rene Thibault

Got…Beer? You might be wondering what milk and beer have in common, but dairy farms and breweries actually have a unique relationship that helps eliminate waste and contributes to a sustainable food system.

About 85 percent of the byproducts from beer production come in the form of spent grains, or the leftovers that typically don’t have another use. So what do breweries do with that material? Throw it away? Your local dairy cow hopes not!

The Ultimate Recyclers

There are about 1,000 dairy farms throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont. With those farms home to hundreds and thousands of cows, there are a lot of mouths to feed.

That’s where local breweries come in. RiverWalk Brewing Co. in Massachusetts, Otter Creek Brewery Co. in Vermont, and Elm City Brewing Co. in New Hampshire are just a few examples of breweries in our region that send their spent grains to area dairy farms. Because cows are ruminants (four distinct compartments in the stomach to digest food), they are the ultimate recyclers.

And it’s not just brewer’s grains that dairy cows like to eat; from citrus pulp to bakery leftovers, dairy cows use many byproducts to fuel their milk production.

Melissa Carabeau is a nutritionist for Poulin Grain and an Animal Science graduate from the University of Vermont, it’s her job to create a balanced diet for thousands of dairy cows in Vermont. She visits local farms weekly to check up on the herds. Carabeau says healthy cows produce delicious milk, and that for some dairy cows across the nation, 10 to 25 percent of their diet comes from human food byproducts. Nationwide more then 34 million tons of food leftovers are fed to farm animals, and kept out of landfills, a practice beneficial to our food system and the environment.

Nutrition is an important part of the dairy industry. Farmers and nutritionists like Carabeau work to find the perfect balance of energy, fat, protein, and carbohydrates. And that balance can differ from cow to cow. It’s a science based on the cow’s breed, their age, even how long it’s been since they had a calf. Learn more about what cows eat.

Feed is a mixture of hay, grain, silage and proteins, plus other vitamins and minerals. Mixing in other materials like the spent brewers’ and distillers’ grains or citrus pulp can help provide some of those vitamins and minerals.

Tip a Glass to your Local Dairy Cow

For Carabeau, the weekly visits to the farm making sure the cows’ nutrition is top-notch are her ways of helping the dairy industry survive and thrive. She jokes that sometimes she thinks dairy cows eat better than we do. She explains the goals for every dairy industry expert are to help make farms financially, socially, and environmentally sustainable.

Cows are the ultimate recyclers. They’re able to consume products that would otherwise be thrown away, and in return produce milk, which contains high-quality protein and several essential nutrients to help nourish people. So the next time you crack open a cold one, or pour yourself a glass of orange juice, give a nod to your local dairy cows!

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