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  • Writer's pictureFarmer Pam's Moos

Dairy Cows — The Original Upcyclers

Recycling can help save the planet. We put plastic, paper, and cans into recycling bins in our homes and businesses. Have you ever thought about what big industries like Ethanol Gas, Breweries, Clothing Fabic Makers or even Candy Manufacturers do with their waste products? They produced hundreds of thousands of tons of waste while producing gas, clothing, beer and candy. They sell that waste to farmers who feed it to their cows!! That’s right! Cow’s upcycle waste products by eating them and turning those nutrients into milk, meat and much more!


So how do cows do it?

Dairy cows are ruminants. (I have a detailed post about rumination you can read for more details on how their four compartment stomach works). A cow’s stomach is comprised of a reticulum, rumen, omasum and abomasum. The rumen is the “workhorse” where she turns the high fiber grasses and feedstuff byproducts that humans cannot consume into usable energy. This allows the abomasum (which functions just like a human stomach) to digest the fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and minerals.

A large part of a cow’s diet is the typical corn & corn silage (starch), hay (fiber & protein), soybeans (protein & fat), and minerals & vitamins. They also eat byproducts.

Byproducts are leftovers. They can be leftovers from crops grown for human food or leftovers from manufacturing. For example, the cotton industry only uses the puff of cotton to make clothing. What is left is the cotton seed which is high in fat and protein. That makes sense since a baby seed needs energy to grown. Instead of sending to a landfill, we “upcycle” that seed and feed it to cows so they can use the energy and protein in that seed.


Manufacturing leftovers turned into useful byproducts instead of going to a landfill

If these byproducts were not consumed by cows, they would head to the landfill, as there is no other industry that has a use for them. At the garbage dump, these byproducts decompose under anaerobic conditions leading to the production of methane. Multiply this across the entire food system and the millions of pounds of byproducts that could be decomposing have huge climate implications. The carbon emissions of sending byproducts to a landfill for incineration are on average 60% greater than feeding them to cows.


Not to mention, cows provide a nutrient-rich edible food in the form of milk and meat. This process by which we turn low quality feed ingredients in the form of byproducts and forage into a higher quality, nutritious product is known as upcycling.

So, the next time you fill your car with gas which contains ethanol, remember how the waste product from producing ethanol is “upcycled” and fed to cows. Or, the next time you eat skittles or M&Ms, know that there’s a dairy cow somewhere also eating candy that wasn’t good enough to sell to humans.


Just as you recycle to help protect our planet, cows do the same. They don’t put waste into a dumpster like you do. Instead, they eat waste products from manufacturing so it doesn’t go into a landfill. What’s magical is how they can “upcycle” that waste byproduct into nutritious and tasty food! AG-MAZING!


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