Is there any food match more appropriate than sprinkles atop an ice cream sundae? Maybe, but none as colorful. Below the sprinkles is the obligatory mound of whipped cream, which stands tall above two scoops of ice cream. It’s expected that this dairy dessert be decorated with sprinkles and cherries and maybe even gummy worms, but would you ever think of those ingredients as feed for cattle?
It’s been reported that, in light of the worst corn harvest in six years (per the USDA), that many cattle farmers are turning to candy and other junk food to feed their cows. Yes, one penny-pinched farmer in Indiana, trying to feed 450 dairy cows on a budget, got a good deal on ice cream sprinkles. He told the Orlando Sentinel that it was a “pretty colorful load,” and in an effort to keep down costs.
With less corn feed available, a standard for large cattle operations, the price is becoming out of reach for some farmers. In addition to ice cream sprinkles as part of the new cattle diet, other farmers are finding bargains on junk food snacks like cookies, gummy worms, marshmallows, fruit loops, orange peels, dried fruit, and even Mexican food.
Orville Miller, a dairy farmer in South Central Kansas, told KWCH that he uses scraps from a local chocolate factory and Mexican food scraps from another local factory to supplement his cows’ diet at a savings of almost 50 cents per cow per day.
“It’s a way of recycling,” he said, as he feeds his cows chocolate pieces, soft taco shells and refried beans. “It’s high fat, high energy feed,” Orville says, which is necessary for his cows to produce hundreds of pounds of milk a day.
Ki Fanning, a nutritionist with Great Plains Livestock Consulting, echoes that benefit, as he told the Orlando Sentinel, “The big advantage to that is you can turn something you normally throw away into something that can be consumed.”
Burton Miller, an animal nutritionist, told KWCH that the chocolate is actually good for the cows because it’s high in energy (calories) and protein.
But what does this mean for consumers, becoming ever more mindful of each bite we put in our mouths? There is already a big enough stink raised over the grass-fed vs. grain-fed debate. And we all saw what happened over pink slime this year. But candy? We might not be getting all of the nutrients we could with a more whole, grass-fed diet.
“Cows are designed to eat grass and similar ‘rough’ vegetative matter, which they chew and digest slowly. When cows eat grass, the vegetable nutrients are transformed into essential fats and proteins in the milk and muscle. When cows eat candy, there’s less of that good nutrition in their meat,” reported CandyProfessor.com.
“Grass-fed meats contain up to four times the amount of omega-fatty acids than meat from grain fed animals,” said Mary Hartley, RD, our resident dietitian.
As of yet, few studies exist about feeding candy to cows, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly the effect this can have on the cow’s overall health and nutrition as well as what the final product sold to consumers will look like. However, for the cows eating candy, which contains sucrose, two studies suggest they produce more butterfat.
According to Engormix, “Two studies, in which sucrose was substituted for starch in lactating dairy cows’ rations, suggest that sucrose increases butterfat yield.” This butterfat is removed during milk processing and then added back to make the varied versions, like whole and 2%.
We as humans aren’t supposed to eat more than an ounce of chocolate per day. The cows can be a lot more liberal with their candy consumption. Jackie Christensen, MSHH, HHP, MH, NC wrote at Gifam.org, that their diet shouldn’t have more than two pounds of chocolate per day, with a limit of five pounds per day for other candy blends.
Christensen cited a report by a University of Wisconsin Extension nutritionist in 2023 that said, “Milk chocolate and candy are often economical sources of nutrients, particularly fat. They may be high in sugar and/or fat content. Milk chocolate and candy may contain 48% and 22% fat, respectively. They are sometimes fed in their wrappers. Candies, such as cull gummy bears, lemon drops, or gum drops are high in sugar content…”
Is junk food just creating more junk food? It seems the end product of meat and dairy do not have nearly the amount of essential fats and proteins they would if the cows were provided a more traditional grass-fed diet. However, it also doesn’t appear that it’s damaging in any way to the final product.
The next time you stand before the buffet of ice cream toppings, consider that it may not be the first time that your ice cream has tasted those sweet confections.
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