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Hemp byproducts not so ba-ba-bad for lamb feed: study

Sep 26, 2022 | Media Partners, The GrowthOp

This post is presented by our media partner The Growth Op
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Chemical analysis revealed hemp biomass had nutritive quality similar to alfalfa

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Researchers out of Oregon State University have looked at hemp biomass and believe it could be a sound addition to lamb feed without any detrimental effect on the animal or the quality of its meat.

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In a recent article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Animal Science, investigators say they wanted to find out what effect spent hemp biomass (SHB) — a byproduct of cannabinoids extraction from the production of industrial hemp — could have when used in feed for lambs.

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To find out, 35 weaned, male lambs received one of five feeding treatments and were fed diets containing no SHB, SHB at 10 per cent of total feed or SHB at 20 per cent of total feed for four weeks. They then withheld SHB for four weeks, a so-called withdrawal period, and then assessed factors like weight gain, meat quality and health parameters.

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“Chemical analysis revealed SHB to have nutritive quality similar to alfalfa with no mycotoxin, terpenes or organic residuals as a result of the extraction process,” the authors write in the study abstract. “Blood parameters related to liver health, kidney function, immune status and inflammation were unaffected by feeding SHB,” they add.

As for the meat, quality parameters also did not differ across the feeding groups. “Except for an increase in shrink and cook loss that also may affect the tenderness, other parameters related to carcass and meat quality were not affected by feeding SHB,” the university reports.

Authors maintain that the findings are significant because the SHB currently has “little to no economic value for the hemp industry,” notes a statement from the university.

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SHB as livestock feed has not yet received the green light from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of the potential presence of THC. To be considered industrial hemp in the U.S., which can then be used to produce other things, the THC content must be no more than 0.3 per cent.

Feed Strategy reported this past August that FDA officials believe “more work is needed to prove trace levels of cannabinoids contained within hemp won’t accumulate in animal products for human consumption.”

Hemp plant at the Oregon State University North Willamette Research and Extension Center. /
Hemp plant at the Oregon State University North Willamette Research and Extension Center. / Photo by Sean Nealon

Oregon State University researchers suggest their recently released results may inch the use of SHB in feed “one step forward to getting that approval.”

Serkan Ates, an associate professor in the university’s College of Agricultural Sciences, notes in the statement that investigators believe the study is the first to evaluate the effects of feeding SHB to livestock. If the FDA approves SBH “use as an animal feedstuff, hemp farmers could have a market for what is essentially a waste product and livestock producers may be able to save money by supplementing their feed with the spent hemp biomass,” Ates suggests.

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By 2021, 54,152 acres of hemp were planted in the U.S. and the total value of the crop was US$824 million, the university cites the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as reporting.­ While hemp has many uses, ranging from textiles to construction materials, USDA’s crop acreage data shows 62 per cent of cultivated hemp was grown for CBD extraction, the university adds.

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

Research from Kansas State University, released earlier this year, found cattle that ate a diet of industrial hemp might be able to better de-stress. The data also shows cannabinoids via industrial hemp consumption helped to reduce concentrations of both cortisol, the primary stress hormone, and the inflammatory biomarker prostaglandin E2.

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