Wow That Cow. The Incredible Recycling Machine.

On Sunday, April 22, the U.S. celebrated Earth Day. Established in 1970, Earth Day shines the spotlight on sustainability efforts to protect our natural resources. For cattlemen, environmental stewardship is an everyday affair.

In this month’s Quality Care Matters, we explore how Pennsylvania cattlemen and food processors work together to recycle high quality cattle feed by-products and simultaneously, reduce processing waste.

According to Adam Zurin, Agri-Basics, Inc. beef nutritionist consultant, cattle feed by-products are the residual products from grain and food processing. Byproducts can include floor screenings, peelings, or expired products for human food production. “In Pennsylvania, the two most common by-product ingredients are potato waste and candy meal,” explains Zurin. As a “Snack Food Capitol,” Pennsylvania provides by-products that are high in fat/energy, starch, and salt. Zurin says the growing craft beer market has increased the amount of available brewers grains in the state too. As a by-product, brewers grains tend to be higher protein and an adequate energy source. While potato by-products typically are higher moisture, they supply more energy in comparison to most forages. “I will use potato products to lower the corn silage and corn amount in the ration,” Zurin shares.

Mark Moyer, Plant Engineer/Asst. Controller at Keystone Potato Products, LLC, remembers that his company recognized there was a market for potato processing by-products when they began planning their plant in 2004. “We have two production lines in our plant – the dehydration line and the fresh cut line,” Moyer explains. “The main by-product from the dehydration line is peel waste; it’s consistency is similar to a bowl of oatmeal. Our fresh cut line by-products are peel and pick out cut products.” Keystone Potato Products LLC recycles all of its potato waste – eight to 10 million pounds per year – to five beef producers. “Our beef producers transport the by-products using a dump trailer, hauling approximately 25,000 pounds per load,” Moyer says. “The processing by-products have good nutritional value, so it only makes sense to make it available for people who can use it. Our company has always been good environmental stewards.”

Darwin Nissley and Bernard Nissley, Nissley Bros., Mount Joy, Lancaster County, incorporate by-products, including potato waste, into rations for their 800-head feedlot. “We’ve been feeding by-products for 25 years and are currently feeding potato chips, candy meal and wet potato waste. Over the years, we’ve also fed bagel chips, cereal and pasta,” Nissley notes. And after 25 years, what by-product does Nissley think cattle prefer? “Their favorite by-products are whole potatoes and bagel chip bread sticks,” he says. We’ve been feeding by-products for 25 years…their favorite by-products are whole potatoes and bagel chip bread sticks. “ Darwin Nissley ” Bagel chip shipments occasionally include 12 – 14” bread loaves from the chips. “The feed mixer would break them to about 4” in length and they would roll out on top of the feed. The cattle loved them,” recalls Nissley.

“With by-products, you have to watch the fat and salt content,” Nissley says. “A balanced ration is critical as to not depress cattle feed intakes. We do not purchase a by-product without talking to our nutritionist first to see if it will work in our feeding program and decrease our cost of gain (COG).”

In addition to working with a nutritionist, Nissley also encourages producers to decide if the by-product’s “grief factor” is worth the time investment. “The wetter the by-product, the more grief you experience with transporting, handling and storing of the byproduct, adding to the total cost,” explains Nissley. When considering by-product economics, Zurin explains that in Pennsylvania, the positive basis of corn results in lower (COG) in comparison to the mid-west. By using by-products, producers can lower their COG and be more competitive with mid-west cattle feeders. Despite by-products’ benefits, corn remains king for maximum performance in the feedlot, Zurin notes. “Make sure the by-product is cost effective and will not inhibit cattle performance or feed conversion,” he shares. “Just because the ingredient is ‘cheap’, it does not mean it will always be the better alternative to corn.”

When analyzing if a by-product is an alternative feed source for your operation, Zurin makes the following recommendations.
• Test products at a certified forge lab to determine feed value
• Watch fat and salt nutrient levels in the finished ration
• Understand the volume of the byproduct supply to determine feeding rates
• Determine the shelf life of the product
• Plan for extra storage and transportation
Zurin, Moyer and Nissley all agree that feeding by-products is an effective way to provide nutrient-rich feed sources and reduce landfill space. “In my mind, it’s a win-win for everybody,” says Nissley.

To learn more about feeding by-products to cattle, contact Courtney Cowden, PA Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Director at or 1-888-4BEEFPA.

by Adam Zurin, Agri-Basics, Inc. Nutritionist