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If Food Waste Is Decreased Is It a Bad Thing?

May 14, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI often see criticism of agriculture in that the amount of food that goes to feed livestock could feed people. I see criticism for using food waste to feed livestock.

And if it’s “wrong” I wonder what the solution is? Most of the feed we use for livestock is something humans can’t eat. Forages, for example, and field corn (for poultry). It’s said that if not for animals that land could grow food for people.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAExcept it’s not that simple. Not all land can grow vegetables and grains equally. Some land is best left to forages. With livestock, it turns that forage into edible food. We aren’t going to eat insects but chickens will!

Field corn, such as pictured on the left, isn’t often used for people, although corn meal may be. Sweet corn and pop corn are from different types of corn than this, and are grown for people although livestock can make use of the rest of the plant we don’t eat!

Yet when articles make the news about cattle or other livestock making use of food waste it is met with criticism. If 3% of a ration is, for example, gummy bears (as I read in one report) that’s 3 pounds against 100 pounds of forage…if a cow eats 20 pounds and 5-6 ounces of it is gummy bears, will she really taste it? Will it make him fat? It’s food people didn’t use, so would it be better force fed to people because they HAVE to eat it without it going to animals? Absurd isn’t it?

It’s not uncommon for baked goods to be a part of livestock rations. I was told once large rabbits need the fiber from a piece of whole grain bread daily. While I think rabbits can survive without it (mine do, but get hay!) they certainly do enjoy whole grain bread! Or white bread, or other treats. Some years ago a study was done into using baked goods in cattle rations. With no difference in taste it notes:

Bread and other bakery products were mixed with regular feed. The corn-based finishing diet for the beef steers was 18 percent corn silage, 63 percent corn grain, 9 percent hay, about 7 percent soybean meal and about 3 percent minerals. By comparison, the bread-based diet was 18 percent corn silage, 15 percent corn grain, 55 percent bread, 7 percent hay, about 3 percent soybean meal and about 2 percent minerals.

Organic Matters, Inc. makes feed with used baked goods as well. “The company based in Bartow, Florida recycles about 1,000 tonnes of food waste per week, mainly baked goods, and turns it into nearly 800 tonnes of animal feed.” One location…all that food not being used by humans, although harvested, processed and attempted to sell for human use.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany criticize this as a horrible thing that “factory farms” do to save money. Perhaps they miss Mother Earth News recommending disposal of kitchen waste to chickens and pigs – hardly a factory farm source, but recognizing the use of kitchen waste by livestock.

The fact is, animals can make good use of breads, baked goods, food waste and otherwise unused human food that was available for human consumption, but went unsold. The fact is, much is made for human consumption that results in waste that isn’t used by people, but can be used by livestock. A good example of this is the soybean waste created by making soy milk – people don’t use the spent beans, but it can be used to feed livestock.

There is no substitute for a good ration of feed. The use of baked goods and other “food waste” does, indeed cut feed costs not just for large farms but small ones as well. The dilemma for some is feeding bread, rolls and other baked goods that is dated by some ink to livestock when there are people hungry that could use it. Unfortunately, regulations can be problematic there, and chickens don’t sue.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe do make use of some baked goods with the rabbits, and find the whole grain and whole wheat breads and rolls, especially those set out to get a little ‘crusty’, are LOVED by the rabbits.

Like larger farms, it’s not a matter of just throwing bread in their feeders and eliminating all else. It’s a balance, a part of the ration that also still includes pellets and, for the rabbits, hay. The chickens and ducks and turkeys chase the rolls as they’re tossed in the pens, and the occasional one that gets stuck in the net provides an object to keep them busy figuring out getting to it. The dogs grab the occasional bun or slice of bread.

Most of it is dated or soon to go out of date. It looks perfectly fine, and the twinge hits me in how many people would use the loaves – but as something available for livestock feed, it’s indeed for the animals. Without them, it’s a lot of ‘waste’ that would go into landfills somewhere.

It is a bit labor intensive – to keep it from molding, all is taken out of the bags. This lets it dry to get that crusty or dried texture the rabbits like. Without being able to dry it could mold, which wouldn’t be something I’d feed. We have to find uses for the bags, and the bread ties holding the bags closed. (Those may be a future blog article!)

Yes, livestock can make use of kitchen waste. We’ve been trying to work with restaurants to recycle, also, salad bar and other ‘waste’ – mostly vegetables but that chickens would love to make use of!

Saving money isn’t just for large farms…it’s for all farms. Making use of something that would otherwise add to landfill issues just makes sense.

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