Fayette County Extension


Interesting article for cattle producers (and cattle lovers like me).

Cows Eating Candy: U.S. Cattle Eat the Oddest Things

When a huge box of red Skittles on the back of a flatbed broke open and spilled across a highway in Wisconsin last week, an interesting piece of news broke along with it: The candy wasn’t intended for human consumption, it was destined to become cattle feed.

To some cattle producers, this came as no surprise. Many have been feeding their herds food made for humans for decades as a substitute for costly corn and poor grazing conditions.

The practice of feeding unusual ingredients to cows to light in a big way in 2012 when severe droughts caused feed prices to skyrocket.

Crab Guts and Cookies…Who’s Hungry?


And today’s cattle menus are equally varied. Along with sweets like candy and chocolate, producers feed cattle beer, marshmallows, gummy bears and even cookies as a way to add carbs and add weight. A 2013 article in Mother Jones added other items to the eye-opening list (at least to consumers) including sawdust, chicken waste, ground limestone and crab guts.

A story reported in 2012 on CNN Money featured Indiana dairy farmer, Mike Yoder, who regularly mixed colored candy sprinkles, along with hot chocolate mix, crumbled cookies, breakfast cereal, trail mix, dried cranberries and orange peelings, into the feed for his herd of 400+ dairy cows. Yoder said the treats provide an adequate substitute for the starchy sugar content cows usually get from corn.

Yoder told CNN that he goes over the feed menu every couple of weeks with a livestock nutritionist who advised him to cap the candy at 3% of a cow’s diet. He said that the sugar in ice cream sprinkles seems to increase milk production by three pounds per cow per day.

That same year, CNYCentral.com reported that Kentucky cattle owner, Joseph Watson, were no longer feeding off high-priced corn. Instead, Watson had turned to feeding his 1400 cattle secondhand candy, including chocolate “just to be able to survive.”

Watson said he was pleased with the weight they were gaining.

“It actually has a higher ratio of fat then actually feeding them straight corn,” Watson said. “It’s hard to believe it will work but we’ve already seen the results of it now, so we’re pretty happy with it.”

Strange Menus Can Be Nutritious

Matt Perrier, owner of the fifth-generation Dalebanks Angus ranch in Eureka, Kansas, wasn’t aware of the Skittles spill, but says it’s not the first he’s heard of feeding human food products to livestock.

“My first job after college was near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and there were several cattle feeders who utilized food products in their balanced cattle rations. Most of these ingredients were sourced from Hershey chocolate factory and a couple of pretzel and potato chip manufacturers in the region.”

Perrier is comfortable with the feeding regime, as long as it’s done with a focus on nutritional balance.

“Just like humans, cattle require the correct mix of protein, carbohydrates, fats and minerals to help them thrive and develop,” explains Perrier. “These nutrients can be provided by a variety of sources, and in rare cases include candy or other sweets. Molasses, for example, has been used as a simple carbohydrate in cattle rations for a long time. This doesn’t mean that these are the only things that cattle are fed—it’s just one of the things that fit into their healthy, balanced diet that are developed by nutritionists based on locally available ingredients.”

Perrier applauds the ingenuity of his fellow farmers in finding alternative food sources to keep their operations going.

“We Americans waste obscene amounts of prepared food each day, so I’m glad that production agriculture has found yet another way to decrease our carbon footprint by making livestock feed out of stuff that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill somewhere.”

During the 2012 drought, Ki Fanning, a livestock nutritionist with Great Plains Livestock Consulting, told CNNMoney at the time that feeding “cast-off” candy “is a very good way for producers to reduce feed cost, and to provide less expensive food for consumers.”

Josh Cribbs, a cattle nutritionist and director of commercial development for the American Maine-Anjou Association, which promotes a particular cattle breed, told NBC News that the food byproducts that get used for cattle feed vary depending on what’s available in the region and particular time of year. In places like Texas, for instance, Cribbs said citrus rinds are common.

Cribbs said a specific product would not be used alone, but be mixed with other ingredients to achieve a particular nutritional profile.

“You might think, ‘Oh my gosh, they might be eating a Skittle.’ In reality, that piece of candy is being broken down,” he said.

Not So Much in Southeast?

In the Southeast, Chris Prevatt, a Livestock & Forage Economist with the Range Cattle Research & Education Center in Ona, Florida, says the practice of supplementing feed with candy is not prevalent in his region of the country. “We’re lucky to have access to decent pastures for much linger periods throughout the year, so there’s less need to supplement with alternate carb sources.”

However, Prevatt has no problem with feeding cows candy. “There’s been no evidence that feeding by-products like candy is unsafe for either the cattle or human consumption,” says Prevatt. “The big consideration is feeding a proper balance of protein, carbs, fat and nutrients,” explains Prevatt. “Candy by-products can provide those carbs and they’re being added in pretty small amounts, maybe 5%.

Prevatt also clarified something many consumers wonder about—you’re not going to pull into a feedlot and see cattle eating a rainbow of Skittles out of a trough.

“Any by-product that’s mixed into regular feed is ground up with it, not fed whole,” says Prevatt. “Here in the Southeast, we sometimes add culled vegetables or maybe fruit rinds. It’s all tossed in to a grinder, so when it comes out, it’s just regular-looking feed.”

Consumers Not So Sure

It’s not surprising that some consumer groups and natural food supporters have questioned the practice.

During the wave of press back in 2012 about feeding candy to cattle, the blog, Don’t Waste The Crumbs, published a piece questioning the sensibility of feeding “sprinkles by the bucketful” to Mike Yoder’s cattle.

“Because it’s the “way things are done,” the farmers act like this is normal,” the blogger, Tiffany, said. “We as consumers have had to educate ourselves on the potential dangers that await us from eating these types of foods.  Are we expected to simply turning a blind eye to processed sugar too?”

Tiffany acknowledged that the candy did successful put weight on cattle as needed prior to slaughter, but she questioned exactly what kind of weight that meant.

“What that excessive amount of sugar does create is 70 additional pounds per cattle available for our consumption.  Since the consumption of excess sugar (more than the body can process) is turned to fat for storage, we can count on our conventionally raised beef being fattier and less nutritious than ever before.”

To Tiffany’s point, Frank Drover offered this perspective in his article on TheDailySheeple.com: “What we don’t know is whether or not this poses a health risk to cattle or humans. Should we soon expect to see diabetic cows popping up in the cattle population?”

But Drover did acknowledge that during difficult periods of drought and skyrocketing feed costs, farmers do need to get creative.

“…with drought threatening the livelihoods of ranchers nationwide we should come to expect that unprecedented methods will be used to keep meat businesses from going bankrupt and to satiate the appetite of the American public.”

As for what exactly is going into cows’ stomachs, Matt Perrier took a look at the Skittles label and noted that the first four ingredients are sugar, fructose syrup, palm kernel oil and apple juice concentrate. “These are all ingredients made from very natural ag products: sugar cane, corn, palm kernels and apples. And I presume the remainder of the ration (likely the large majority) is made up of traditional feedstuffs like hay, silage, ethanol co-products and other conventional crops.”

Even By-Products Suffer From Price Increases

An interesting side note—like corn and other more typical cattle feed, candy-feed apparently is not immune to price increases. In the 2012 interview with CNN Money, Yoder said he had seen the price of sprinkles rise from $160 per ton—which was about half the price of corn—to about $240. But he still buys the candy.

The article said that Yoder and other farmers buy their feed from brokers like Midwest Ingredients, Inc., of Princeville, Ill., which offers a wide assortment of by-products, including cherry juice, fish meal, poultry waste, peanut butter, fruit fillings, tapioca and left-over grain from distilleries.


An article posted yesterday http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/mars-investigating-skittles-said-be-intended-cattle-n710496on NBC.com reported that there’s a new twist in the Skittles spill. According to a spokesperson for Skittles maker, Mars, Inc., “a variety of food byproducts are commonly used for animal feed, and Mars says, “it has procedures for discarding foods for that purpose.” However, the company says the Skittles in question came from a factory that doesn’t sell unused products for animal feed.

“We don’t know how it ended up as it did and we are investigating,” Mars said.


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