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Spent Hemp Biomass: A Feed Use That Supports Milk Production in Dairy Cows

Philadelphia | February 7, 2024

A new study, published in the Journal of Dairy Science®, explores whether the plentiful, fibrous byproduct of CBD production holds potential promise as a nutritious, efficiency-boosting feed ingredient for the dairy sector

Hemp cultivation has exploded in recent years, especially asCBD, a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid, has grown in popularity. As a result, there have been increasing calls—including from the Association of American Feed Control Officers—for CBD’s by-product, spent hemp biomass, to be investigated as a potential animal feed ingredient. Is this plentiful fiber source a reliable, healthy new feedstuff for livestock, including dairy cows?

In the latest issue of the Journal of Dairy Scienceopens in new tab/window, published by FASS Inc. and Elsevier, an international research team is helping to provide an answer. Their new studyopens in new tab/window—the first of its kind using biomass left over following extraction of CBD—demonstrates that spent hemp biomass is a safe, if somewhat unpalatable, feed ingredient to include in the diets of lactating dairy cows.

Given that the US Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve feeding hemp, or any of its byproducts, to livestock, why do we care about spent hemp biomass as a potential food source? The study’s lead investigator, Massimo Bionaz, PhD, of the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences, Oregon State University in Corvallis, OR, explained, “We know from recent research that spent hemp biomass has very promising nutritional value.”

As an ingredient, it is rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can benefit an animal’s immune system, performance, and overall health. Dr. Bionaz added, “It even shows potential in helping us achieve sustainability and efficiency goals, possibly increasing an animal’s nitrogen use efficiency and reducing methane production.”

Furthermore, the dairy sector is always seeking out feed options to help benefit the animal, the producer, and the consumer in the face of feed market volatility and fluctuating milk prices—especially when taken from sources that would otherwise be discarded.

While hemp research is ongoing in agriculture, Dr. Bionaz and his team are the first to study spent hemp biomass with measurable levels of cannabinoids—a characteristic of the hemp varieties grown for CBD extraction—on the productivity and health of dairy cows.

Dr. Bionaz noted, “As with any feed ingredient, it is critical to first understand whether it is safe to be fed to dairy cows and ensure that it does not negatively affect lactation performance or the health of the animals.”

The international team of researchers started their investigation by enrolling 18 late-lactation Jersey cows in their eight-week study. After an initial four days being fed the exact same mid-lactation basal diet, the cows were split into two groups, with one being fed increasing levels of feed supplemented with spent hemp biomass and the control group receiving alfalfa meal—both maxing out at 13% of dry matter.

Then the group of Jerseys receiving spent hemp biomass had four weeks of withdrawal, during which the feed supplements were slowly reduced back down to zero. The team measured the cows’ dry matter intake, body weight and body condition score, milk yield, and milk components and fatty acid profiles throughout the study, along with their blood parameters, nitrogen metabolism, methane emission, and activity levels.

Caption: Spent hemp biomass—a common and plentiful by-product of CBD production—is a safe potential feed ingredient for lactating dairy cows (Credit: Massimo Bionaz, PhD).

Dr. Bionaz said, “Our results show that spent hemp biomass is in fact safe as a potential feed ingredient for lactating dairy cows and does not negatively affect lactation performance or the health of the animals. However, we did see a decrease in feed intake for the cows with spent hemp biomass in their diet.”

The team theorized that this low palatability was probably due to some of the novel sensory characteristics of hemp. Dr. Bionaz elaborated, “Dairy cows are creatures of routine and are likely not accustomed to the characteristic ‘skunk’ smell from spent hemp biomass, especially in its concentrated pelletized form.

Despite this lower dry matter intake, milk production was unaffected and, surprisingly, even increased compared with the control group after the hemp was withdrawn from the cows’ diets. The team is eager to explore the follow-up questions from their research, including the possibility that dairy cows could adapt to eating spent hemp biomass over time and exploring whether feeding spent hemp biomass could prime dairy cows for higher efficiency.

Dr. Bionaz said, “Overall, and in line with our initial hypothesis, feeding spent hemp biomass, even with a relatively high level of cannabinoids, decreases feed intake but does not affect lactation performance or the health of the animals.”

Although Dr. Bionaz and the team emphasize the importance of additional research, this initial study provides critical first evidence that spent hemp biomass might be feasible as an addition in the diets of lactating dairy cows.

Notes for editors

The article is “Feeding spent hemp biomass to lactating dairy cows: Effects on performance, milk components and quality, blood parameters, and nitrogen metabolism,” by Agung Irawan, Gracia Maria Puerto-Hernandez, Hunter Robert Ford, Sebastiano Busato, Serkan Ates, Jenifer Cruickshank, Juliana Ranches, Charles T. Estill, Erminio Trevisi, and Massimo Bionaz ( in new tab/window). It appears in the Journal of Dairy Science, volume 107, issue 1 (January 2024), published by FASS Inc. and Elsevier.

The article is openly available at in new tab/window and the PDF version is available at in new tab/window.

Full text of this article is also available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 406 1313 or [email protected]opens in new tab/window. Journalists wishing to interview the authors should contact the corresponding author, Massimo Bionaz, PhD, of the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, at [email protected]opens in new tab/window.

About the Journal of Dairy Science

The Journal of Dairy Science® (JDS), an official journal of the American Dairy Science Association®, is co-published by Elsevier and FASS Inc. for the American Dairy Science Association. It is the leading general dairy research journal in the world. JDS readers represent education, industry, and government agencies in more than 70 countries, with interests in biochemistry, breeding, economics, engineering, environment, food science, genetics, microbiology, nutrition, pathology, physiology, processing, public health, quality assurance, and sanitation. JDS has a 2022 Journal Impact Factor of 3.5 and five-year Journal Impact Factor of 4.2 according to Journal Citation Reports™ (Source: Clarivate™ 2023). www.journalofdairyscience.orgopens in new tab/window

About the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA®)

The American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) is an international organization of educators, scientists, and industry representatives who are committed to advancing the dairy industry and keenly aware of the vital role the dairy sciences play in fulfilling the economic, nutritive, and health requirements of the world’s population. It provides leadership in scientific and technical support to sustain and grow the global dairy industry through generation, dissemination, and exchange of information and services. Together, ADSA members have discovered new methods and technologies that have revolutionized the dairy industry.www.adsa.orgopens in new tab/window

About FASS Inc.

Since 1998, FASS has provided shared management services to not-for-profit scientific organizations. With combined membership rosters of more than 10,000 professionals in animal agriculture and other sciences, FASS offers clients services in accounting, membership management, convention and meeting planning, information technology, and scientific publication support. The FASS publications department provides journal management, peer-review support, copyediting, and composition for this journal; the staff includes several BELS-certified (www.bels.orgopens in new tab/window) technical editors and experienced composition staff. www.fass.orgopens in new tab/window

About Elsevier

As a global leader in scientific information and analytics, Elsevier helps researchers and healthcare professionals advance science and improve health outcomes for the benefit of society. We do this by facilitating insights and critical decision-making with innovative solutions based on trusted, evidence-based content and advanced AI-enabled digital technologies.

We have supported the work of our research and healthcare communities for more than 140 years. Our 9,500 employees around the world, including 2,500 technologists, are dedicated to supporting researchers, librarians, academic leaders, funders, governments, R&D-intensive companies, doctors, nurses, future healthcare professionals and educators in their critical work. Our 2,900 scientific journals and iconic reference books include the foremost titles in their fields, including Cell Press, The Lancet and Gray’s Anatomy.

Together with the Elsevier Foundationopens in new tab/window, we work in partnership with the communities we serve to advance inclusion and diversity in science, research and healthcare in developing countries and around the world.

Elsevier is part of RELXopens in new tab/window, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers. For more information on our work, digital solutions and content, visit



Jess Townsend

American Dairy Science Association®

+1 217 239 3331

E-mail Jess Townsend


Eileen Leahy


+1 732 238 3628

E-mail Eileen Leahy