Cows turning into recyclers

BRIDPORT — “There are so many closed loop systems. It’s all about that on our farms,” said Bridport dairy farmer Marie Audet, emphasizing the ways that sustainability is also a part of commonsense farm practice.

“We grow crops to feed the cows, and they make milk. Their milk makes Cabot cheese. And in the cheese-making process there’s some leftover stuff — whey — that instead of going into the municipal waste system in Middlebury gets brought back here,” she said, referring to her family’s Blue Spruce Farm.

The farm is part of a pilot project with Casella Organics to take leftover food and fiber and, instead of putting it into a landfill, turn it into electricity using a methane digester similar to the one used to harvest methane from the farm’s cow manure. Blue Spruce is getting food waste to power the digester.

“Some of that stuff we feed to the cows. It has good protein for the cows to eat and gets mixed into their nutritionally balanced diet. And then some of it is not really helpful with the feed, so we can put it right through our digester.”

Many leftovers from the human food and fiber industry taste great to cows, explained Audet. These “leftovers” not only benefit the cows’ diet but keep food waste out of landfills (see related story in the May 30 edition of the Independent).

“Unlike my family, our cows have a nutritionist who carefully balances their daily feed. And depending on what’s around us from the human food and fiber industry, we can incorporate a lot of that stuff as a very valuable feed additive,” Audet said.

Alongside their hay and corn silage, what might a hard-working dairy cow eat on the way to making milk, cheese, butter or yogurt? Audet named a few things that find their way into Blue Spruce cows’ diets:

•  Hops and residual yeast from local microbrews.

•  Cookie meal from the cookie dough made to go into ice cream.

•  Citrus pulp leftover from oranges pressed for juice.

•  Individual packet creamers.

•  Crushed canola seed, left over after the oil is extracted.

•  Apple mash left over from apple juice and apple cider.

“Cows think that’s just delicious,” Audet said.

Two surprising cow favorites for the non-dairy-initiated are bread and doughnuts.

“Oh man they like that bread and doughnuts mixed into their feed,” she said.

Audet explained that because cows have four stomachs, they can eat this variety of foods as part of a healthy diet.

“They’ll put all this stuff in their four stomachs and then they’ll lay down and they’ll chew it. People are surprised to know how efficient cows are at eating foods that are byproducts of human production,” said Audet. “And you should smell the feed when you put some of this stuff in, it’s like ‘Wow, this smells really good.’”

Added Audet, “So we can grow haylage and corn silage right here, but these other things help round out and balance their diets and at the same time close that loop of these nutrients and make good use of food that we should be eating but aren’t.”

Reporter Gaen Murphree is at gaenm@addisonindependent.com.

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