Hemp by-products make good replacement feed for lambs, study finds

A new study has found that used hemp biomass can be included in the diet of lambs without major adverse effects on animal health or meat quality.

An survey from Oregon State University has revealed that depleted hemp biomass – the main by-product of the process of extracting cannabinoids (CBD) from hemp – can be included in the diet of lambs without ill effects major effects on the health of the animals or the quality of their meat.

These findings are important because hemp byproducts, known as spent hemp biomass, currently have little or no economic value to the hemp industry, the researchers said.

Spent hemp biomass has also not been legalized as livestock feed by the Food and Drug Administration due to the potential presence of THC and its potential impact on animal health.

"To our knowledge, our study is the first to assess the effects of feeding livestock with spent hemp biomass," said Serkan Ates, associate professor at Oregon State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

“The results are important for both hemp growers and livestock ranchers as they prove that this hemp by-product can be used in livestock feed. If the Food and Drug Administration approves its use as animal feed, hemp growers may have a market for what is essentially waste and livestock producers may be able to save money by supplementing feed them with used hemp biomass. »

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The results were recently published in the Journal of Animal Science.

Hemp was grown in the United States from colonial times until it was banned in the XNUMXth century because it was regulated the same as marijuana. Hemp is the same species as marijuana but contains much lower amounts of THC, a psychoactive compound.

In recent years, hemp has been legalized as an agricultural product, which has led to a large increase in crops. In 2021, 54 acres of hemp were planted in the United States and the total crop value was $152 million, according to the USDA.

Hemp is a very versatile crop that can be used in textiles, food, paper and building materials, but until recently it was mainly grown for CBD oil, which is extracted from the flowers and the hemp plant foliage. According to 2020 acreage data from the US Department of Agriculture, 62% of hemp grown was for CBD extraction.

For the study, Oregon State researchers fed male lambs two different amounts of spent hemp biomass (10% and 20% of total feed) and then gave no biomass. of hemp for four weeks, which is called a withdrawal period. They then assessed the weight gain, carcass characteristics, meat quality and health parameters of the lambs.

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Their conclusions are as follows:

  • The nutritional quality of spent hemp biomass is equivalent to that of alfalfa meal, which is commonly fed to lambs, and has lower palatability and better digestibility.
  • Feed consumption was negatively affected by feeding 20% ​​spent hemp biomass in the short term but not long term, while feeding 10% spent hemp biomass increased feed consumption long-term. Despite this, no effect on lamb weight was observed. With the exception of increased shrinkage and cook loss which may also affect tenderness, other parameters related to carcass and meat quality were not affected by the diet. hemp biomass.
  • Spent hemp biomass affected metabolism in a way that does not appear to be detrimental and improved antioxidant capacity in animals. The animals' livers were not affected but a decrease in hepatic clearance was observed, ie the ability of the liver to extract or metabolise a drug.
  • The authors indicated that this latter finding requires further study, as it may affect the clearance of other drugs that may be administered to lambs.

"Although more research is still needed, spent hemp biomass can be considered a safe feed for ruminants and a good alternative to alfalfa meal for livestock, especially if it has an economic benefit," Ates said. .

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