MANHATTAN, Kan. (KSNW) – Two Kansas researchers look at industrial hemp as an option for cattle farmers and producers to feed their herds.

“Although hemp can be legally cultivated under license in Kansas, feeding hemp products to livestock remains prohibited because the potential for cannabinoid drug residues to accumulate in meat and milk has not been studied,” said Hans Coetzee, professor and head of the anatomy and physiology department in the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Kansas State University veterinary researchers Hans Coetzee (left) and Michael Kleinhenz are studying the safety of using industrial hemp in feed for cattle. | Courtesy Kansas State University

After a 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp production in the U.S., interest grew in industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity, including feed for animals, among other useful products.

Through the Association of American Feed Control Officials, FDA approval would be required before hemp could be fed to livestock or pets.

A team of K-State researchers received a $200,000 Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to establish concentrations of cannabinoids in livestock after exposure to industrial hemp.

“Industrial hemp is typically grown to produce oil, seed, fiber, and medicines,” said Kleinhenz. “While varieties of hemp may be planted for a single or dual purpose, such as for seed and fiber, byproducts consisting of leaves, fodder, and residual plant fibers remain after harvest.

Kleinhenz said these byproducts could serve as potential feedstuffs for animals. because these are mostly cellulose-containing plant materials, the ideal species cattle.”

The questions the researches are looking to answer are whether the feed can be used safely without causing THC intoxication and the presence of other bioactive cannabinoids. According to Kleinhenz, most previous research was focused on humans, mice, and swine, but not on cattle.

“This is surprising because cattle can readily utilize industrial hemp byproducts as they can digest cellulose plant materials in their rumens,” Kleinhenz said.

The hemp used in the studies was grown at K-State’s John C. Pair Horticultural Center near Wichita.

The scientists say they the acidic cannabinoids, like CBDA and THCA, are more readily absorbed from the rumen, or first stomach, than other nonacid cannabinoid forms, such as CBD and CBG.

“Now that we have found that some cannabinoids are readily absorbed from the rumen, the next steps are to study the tissue and milk residue depletion profiles of these compounds after animal feeding experiments,” Kleinhenz said. “The effects of cannabinoids on cattle are also unknown.”

K-State says follow-up experiments will include pilot studies to examine the effect of feeding hemp on animal behavior and immune function.

“Our goal is to fill in the knowledge gaps,” Kleinhenz said. “Until feedstuffs containing hemp are established as safe in animals, our data will assist producers in managing situations involving intentional or unintentional hemp exposures.”