Cows are Eating My Halloween Candy!

Candy for Cows

Last month a few stories hit the news about cows being fed candy. Yep, you read that right…cows eating gummy worms, chocolate, even sprinkles…These stories raised a few questions: Is it safe for cows to eat candy? Is it healthy for the cows? Does it impact milk quality? To answer these questions and talk a bit about the science of cow nutrition, we caught up with Allen Young, an Associate Professor in the Animal, Dairy, and Veterinary Science Department at Utah State University and a Dairy Extension Specialist.

Cows munching a TMR

First let’s set the stage by addressing what cows eat. Feeding dairy cattle to produce consistent, high quality milk is a complicated science. Most dairy farmers contract with an animal nutritionist to help formulate their cows’ diet – a combination of components to deliver just the right amount of carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals – called a total mixed ration (TMR). What goes into a TMR can vary considerably based on season, location, and cost but can include: alfalfa hay, corn silage, rolled corn, cottonseed, beet pulp, soymeal, fruit and whey. Just like humans, with such variety possible, balance becomes key, and candy can fit in moderation.

A feed wagon mixes and distributes the cows’ TMR

Why would farmers choose to feed candy? As feed costs have risen considerably over past year due to economic as well as weather-related issues, farmers have had to get creative and look for alternative feed options that will allow them to maintain quality yet improve their narrow margins.

So… Can candy be part of a healthy, balanced TMR?

Allen Young: “Yes, in amounts that fit with the overall nutrition of the cow. Candy like gummy bears and sprinkles, would be considered as  sources of glucose (carbohydrate) and would be used by the cow for energy and lactose in the milk. This would not be the cow’s total ration, just a fraction of the ration that would replace some of the sugars from corn. Cookies would provide not only sugars, but fats and a little protein. I have also seen chocolate bars fed to cows as well as bakery waste. All work well as long as the nutrient content is known and it fits within the overall diet. Just like children and adults, you have to be careful they don’t eat too much of a good thing.” (Read more about how cows can be picky eaters too!)

Does candy impact the quality & taste of the milk?

Allen Young: “A cow’s ration will impact the nutrient composition of her milk. There is an art and science to correctly feeding a cow to meet her needs and produce consistent nutrient-rich milk.” This is why dairy farmers work with an animal nutritionist to keep their cows’ rations consistently formulated.  

As dairy farm families work to stay in business, they have had to adapt to changes, innovate, and get creative. Working closely with an animal nutritionist to maintain balance and quality in their cows’ diets is just part of the bigger picture. So yes…cows may be eating some of your leftover Halloween candy!

For one more perspective, check out this post from a Maine Dairy Farmer who responds to a 2017 story about Skittles being fed to dairy cattle.

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