Feeding Our Food: Can Hemp Be Fed to Livestock?

by | Nov 10, 2021

Detroiter Karhlyle Fletcher is the host of High Lit, a cannabis research and classic literature podcast featuring leading voices and independent music. In addition to years in written and video cannabis journalism, he is also a traditional author.

One of the massive resource-drains on our civilized world is livestock and the food which they consume. We spend billions of dollars annually producing feed for these animals, whether grass, corn, wheat, or oats. However, could the organic materials in hemp benefit our livestock even more than traditional grains?

Can Animals Get High from Eating Cannabis?

As far as we can tell, no – livestock does not get high from eating cannabis stems, leaves, or seeds. Like humans, animals cannot simply eat cannabis to get high because the psychoactive components of cannabis are oil-soluble. Without being decarboxylated and combined with an oil medium or conversion into a water-soluble form, cannabis would pass through the body before the psychoactive component could begin to be absorbed. The difference is that while the human body can't process raw plant matter effectively, bovine animals and others such as pigs have several stomachs ideal for breaking down these materials. 

In fact, before 1979 and the formation of the DEA’s cannabis eradication program, feral hemp, commonly known as ‘ditch weed,’ grew wild all across the United States – remnants of when hemp cultivation was required as our American duty. And livestock from the East coast to the Missouri River ate hemp regularly. Throughout the 1980s, DEA officers became glorified landscapers as they destroyed millions of benign hemp plants all over the US. 

In 2006, NORML reported that 99% of the plants destroyed by this coalition were actually low-THC feral hemp – not THC-rich cannabis.

Just as hemp and hemp seed are considered super-foods for humans, it’s likely just as beneficial to animals. In the Northwest, cannabis-fed pork is sold to the delight of Oregon citizens without as much as a hiccup. Imperial, a high-end restaurant, partners with Moto Perpetuo Farm. At Moto Perpetuo, they created a permaculture system, including their cannabis farm and their pigs which get fed all of the byproducts of growth. 

What Does Pork From Cannabis-Fed Pigs Taste Like? — Prime Time

Hemp-fed, Cannabis-fed, What’s the Difference? 

Well, as stated many times, hemp is a form of cannabis. The difference between hemp and adult-use or medical cannabis – “marijuana” – is hemp has less THC. Rather than being a coherent category botanically, the designation has more to do with legislation than genetics. Only THC is regulated by federal law; cannabis itself is entirely legal. So, whether you're feeding your animals cannabis or hemp, the research on one or the other should still be applicable. 

2010 research from Sweden and 2015 research from Manitoba found that hempseed could feed both cows and poultry. Rather than discovering high animals, they found increased nutrient density in the milk produced. Additionally, the yolk produced by the poultry had enriched omega-3 fatty acid levels. 

According to Seth Boone of PanXchange, “cotton has an established feed market in the Southwest and Southeast with 63 million acres… with the current genetics, hemp only needs 2 million acres to lap [cotton's] production on the grain”, referring specifically to cannabis's capability to outproduce cotton. Boone also highlights that cannabis will eventually be able to outcompete cotton for fiber as well.

There Is No Shame in Sustaining Off Low-hanging Fruit

Several cannabis markets have boomed and busted within America already. These markets are independent by and large because national transportation is challenging. Still, some markets have yet to rise. The south has always been a breadbasket and agricultural powerhouse, and much of its great fortune was tobacco money. 

Now, although last year we saw a rise in cigarette sales, the nation seems to be moving on from that cash crop. So that means a collapse in profits for the south, which depends on agricultural products. What could they do to recover? Legalize the new product that Americans are running to go purchase – cannabis. 

Not only would this put more money into states sorely needing it, but it's also an excellent option to replace traditional livestock feed crops. Freeing up those other crops could also allow those states to produce more ethanol.  

In sum, there are several benefits and unique strategies to engage in with hemp and cannabis. The south has already adopted hemp, and so it would take merely a few votes and changes to legislation to allow a massive shift in production. If you're not convinced, there's $200,000 of research ongoing in Kansas to monitor the cannabinoid levels in animals fed hemp, and so progress seems inevitable.