Cows eating candy? Farmers get creative

Some feed lots and dairy farms are using Cap'n Crunch cereal and other sugary treats as a substitute for corn on a limited basis.

By Jonathan Berr Oct 10, 2012 5:33PM
Image: Cowboy herding longhorn cattle near Fairplay, Colo. Comstock, Getty ImagesHalloween has come early for cattle in America. Farmers desperate to deal with skyrocketing grain costs are reportedly feeding their cows candy as a feed alternative.

According to reports in CNNMoney and elsewhere, farmers have increasingly turned to creative alternatives to keep their cattle fed. The practice has apparently gone on for years, but only has recently gotten attention in the media.

Some beef buyers were not aware it was going on. And consumers may be shocked to find out that their steak is a little, uh, caramelized. When a shopper walks inside the meat or dairy department in grocery chains such as Safeway (SWY), SUPERVALU (SVU) or Whole Foods (WFM) or orders a steak at a fancy restaurant owned by Ruth's Hospitality Group (RUTH), the last thing they probably are thinking about is candy.

"I checked in with our national meat buyers -- we're not aware of any suppliers using candy for cattle feed, but will check into this," writes Whole Foods spokeswoman Liz Burkhart in an email to MSN Money. "As part of our onboarding process with new suppliers, we require them to provide a feed label, and we've haven't seen candy appear."

The economics of using candy feed are compelling.

"While corn goes for about $315 a ton, ice-cream sprinkles can be had for as little as $160 a ton," reports CNN, which points out that the sugary diet doesn't harm the cow or pose a risk to people who consume its meat or milk. The cow's unique biology, which includes having four stomachs, helps.

"Cattle are uniquely able to turn a variety of feed ingredients or unusable byproducts into the nutrients they need to grow and be healthy," according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "Based on the geographic region of the country where the cattle are raised, the feed may also include locally grown products that otherwise would be sent to landfills or burned and would go to waste. "

Farmers feed calves grass during the early part of their lives. When they get older, some are sent to feed lots where they are fattened up on a diet rich in carbohydrates such as corn.  Some feed lot operators and dairy farms are using candy and other sweet treats such as baked goods and Cap'n Crunch cereal as a substitute for corn on a limited basis.

Candy does not have the nutrients of corn and couldn't be substituted entirely for the grain. It would be as unhealthy as human going on an all-candy diet. But cows may be getting more out of candy than empty calories. Farmers are noticing increases in milk production and of course it certainly helps fatten them up.

--Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks.  Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Oct 10, 2012 7:31PM
Cattle are fed by-products of the human food/fiber industry all the time.  Every steak or hamburger you've ever eaten or glass of milk you've drank has come from an animal that ate something that wasn't human grade quality or was a by-product of something made for humans.  Why they are now writing an article is because of how high the feed prices are going to be this winter because of the nationwide drought this summer/fall. 

Saying farmers like this need to get out of business is actually the opposite - farmers that are taking advantage of cheap feed are the ones that should be in business - they are the ones really watching their bottom line. 

Farmers that live near the Hershey plant in PA have been feeding outdated chocolate to their cattle (dairy and beef) for years - they grind up the PAPER wrappings because cattle use this as a source of fiber (not plastic, that's just asking for trouble).  And no, those cows don't make chocolate milk unfortunately.  What is Cap'n Crunch - it's just corn meal and sugar, why can't a cow eat this as a source of energy?  When farmers introduce a new ingredient into a ration they do it gradually so the animal's system can adjust and when they run out of a feedstuff they gradually wean it out of the animal's diet .  Cattle aren't like humans, they don't like variety in their food, so when you put something different in their feed it's all done gradually.  Cattle will eat anything and they can get away with it because of the multi-compartmented digestive system that can break down many of the toxins that are in some feeds.

In the future people, please don't comment on something you haven't got a clue about.
Oct 10, 2012 7:33PM
Oct 10, 2012 8:04PM
With Halloween fast-approaching, maybe they can feed them....candy corn!

{Go ahead and groan, I don't mind.)

Oct 10, 2012 7:20PM
I knew a guy that feed his cattle donuts,,,,,
Oct 10, 2012 7:11PM
Give em Milk Duds and let them chew on that cud and give us some natural chocolate milk.
Oct 10, 2012 7:01PM
This "candy" is damaged and out of date products from your grocer and 7-11 stores. It contains everything-- chewing gum, stale cereal, granola bars, candy, etc. It is put through a grinder-wrappers and labels, too--turned into mulch and then fed to the cattle.  Sure makes me want a juicy steak.
Oct 10, 2012 7:20PM
as gross as im sure some people would find this, i will still eat cow! BEEF IS WHATS FOR DINNER. that said if they are saving themselves money on cow feed they should pass the savings on to us who eat their cows.
Oct 10, 2012 8:03PM

These farmers are in a tough situation this year. Hay prices are high, corn prices are high, even the price of some by-products is going up. These farmers don't want to feed their cattle candy, but if they can still make money while feeding YOUR fat a$$, let them do what they want.

Oct 10, 2012 10:13PM
Your article has such a small smidgen of truth in it is laughable.  Farmers have been feeding human-food byproducts since the beginning of time.  All food products made for human consumption have by-products and waste products.  These products have feed value, and can be used in a balanced feed ration to as a low-cost feed input.  The candy mentioned above is often entered into a feed ration by a nutritionist, and has a high energy value.  Candy cannot be fed as a stand-alone product.  It is often mixed in as between 1 and 3% of a balanced diet.  For example, candy cherry juice might be poured on top of hay silage.  The cherry flavor increases the palatability (tastes good so the cattle love it and are excited to eat it).   Products like candy, baking mixes, cereals, and etc. etc. are prepared under the strict guidelines of human consumption, so why is everyone making it out to be such a bad thing?   Are you all too far removed not only from the farm but from basic from common sense?
Oct 10, 2012 8:26PM
Farmers are "Noticing" increase in milk production??? This is not NEW NEWS folks. Dairy's have been supplementing milk cows with candy years ago  and the milk is perfect.
My parents are cattle ranchers and I am disgusted at this garbage for news. You should see what Texas Cattle Ranchers were forced to feed their starving cattle last year. Any and everything that could be rolled up in the large bales from the east coast brought to us at prices that were unheard of $165.00 per bail. I saw that **** and I would have rather my parents feed the cows the candy.
So take this BS news and quit scaring the consumers that buy beef. Thank You.

Oct 10, 2012 7:48PM
Grass is free! Feed them what they were meant to eat! Cows are not meant to eat corn or corn by-products or candy for that matter!
Oct 10, 2012 8:23PM
I know a person with a good supply of bagsase that is a byproduct of sugarcane processing. It is much cheaper than all the others and has been used to feed cattle for many years. If interested contact me at
Oct 19, 2012 1:40AM
I was about to post something really offended and sanctimonious and then I scrolled down and read the comments from people who seem to know what they're talking about.  Then I did five minutes of Googling and discovered they were correct.

So, thanks y'all.  You saved me having to write a really angry internet comment.  And now I know more about cow diets than I did five minutes ago. 

So that's a plus.

Oct 10, 2012 8:31PM
as long as profits stay fat. while Americans suffer and do without WALL STREET reports double profits for 2012. the big 1% are squeezing every coin, every hope and every dream out of the lower masses. and we are all below them. in the poorest areas they give up. in the working poor's heart they wonder is the struggle worth it.  in the middle class they curse those below them as those above them rake-off record setting incomes. when the bough breaks...... what?   jobs riots like i the riots, soup kitchens on every corner ? gas riots and shoot-outs at the pumps like the 70ds ? when the bough breaks i hope my time has come or God has stepped in.....
Oct 10, 2012 8:11PM
Oct 10, 2012 8:12PM

Maybe if we all stopped eating meat this kind of shenanagans would stop. Farmers that do this should have thier government subsidies stopped. disgusting


Oct 10, 2012 6:35PM
farmers like that need to get out of the business
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