Washington Dairy Cows Turn Wasted Food into Environmental Upcycling

Enumclaw, WA — In the United States, between 30-40 percent of our food supply is wasted. We may purchase more food than we need, throw away leftovers and store what we have incorrectly so that food spoils too soon. Food waste can put a large dent in our family budgets and have a severe environmental impact. There are ways to help tackle food waste according to the Washington Dairy Products Commission – cows.

A cow has a four-chambered stomach giving them the ability to process materials that humans cannot digest. Almost 40% of a dairy cow’s diet can come from byproducts, e.g., distillers’ grain, bakery waste, damaged fruits, vegetables, and even cotton seeds. Yes, the leftover part from cotton that makes your clothes!

Dairy cows have the unique ability to convert byproducts into human food, which also provides beneficial nutrients to cows while reducing food waste. Consider all the water, energy, and fuel used to grow, harvest, and transport food from the farm to your table. When food goes to the trash, it doesn’t just disappear; it rots in landfills and releases harmful gases. However, if we repurpose that food, like feeding it to cows, we can reduce these emissions.

Science into feeding cows
“A typical Washington cow will eat about 75 to 100 pounds of food per day,” said Vincent Watters, certified dairy cow nutritionist. Dairy farmers work closely with animal nutritionists to create specialized diets for the herd to ensure the cows are getting the minerals, nutrients, and vitamins they need to stay healthy. Sometimes, farmers and nutritionists work together to find additional foods that can be added to cows’ diets beyond traditional feed ingredients. All byproducts brought to the farm are tested and supervised by a cow nutritionist.

Environmental Stewards
Seattle area dairy farmers Mike and Leann Krainick work sustainability into everything that they do on the farm, including collecting bakery waste and spent grain from local breweries. The Krainicks upcycle five to six million pounds of food waste per month, which provides a great source of protein and helps to create a nutritionally balanced diet for their cows. “Upcycling food byproducts is a win-win for everyone,” says the Krainicks. “Farmers are able to reduce their feed cost, manufacturers are able to reduce their disposal fees, and we all benefit from a lower carbon footprint.”

Cows and Humans:  Partners in Sustainability
Reducing food waste can increase food security and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Leading the charge in this effort are our incredible dairy cows, who have the amazing ability to upcycle inedible food into valuable feed. Plus, the dedication of our dairy farmers who will continue to drive innovation in environmental stewardship, helping to ensure a more sustainable future for all.