by Matt McIntosh
Spent grains, a by-product from brewing, are a highly valued source of feed for livestock. Working together, farmers and brewers save money, keep organic waste out of the landfill, and produce two valuable food products from one ingredient.
It takes a lot of grain to meet the demand for good beer. After the brewing process, however, beer producers large and small need to do something with their spent grains.
With enormous quantities of spent grains produced every day, cattle farmers offer brewers an environmentally friendly – and financially beneficial – solution.
Conveniently, spent grains are also a boon to farmers themselves.
“In terms of feed value, spent grains are very high in protein. It’s very good for the cattle and their rumen health,” says Will Stoneman, a third-generation farmer raising a 50-head herd of purebred Angus cattle on his Hamilton-area farm.
“The grains usually have 60 to 70 per cent moisture. When the truck shows up, it’s literally dripping out of the trailer.”
Because of its nutritional value, brewers’ grains constitute a consistent and important ingredient. Indeed, spent grains comprise approximately 15 per cent of the feed provided to Stoneman’s calves and cows. For larger male cattle, it can be as much as one-third. The remaining portion is made up of straw, hay, and corn silage (fodder) from both his and neighbouring farms.
Selling beef directly to local customers as well as the wholesale market, Stoneman has brewers’ grains delivered by the truckload – up to 40 tons at a time. A specialized brokerage company helps him coordinate deliveries to the farm based on his needs, and those of local brewers.
Saving Landfill Space
The need for brewers to ship spent grains is indeed great. Without a readily available livestock market, this valuable by-product would otherwise end up in the landfill at the brewer’s expense.
“In summer we’re usually doing 12 brews a week. Each one uses 300 to 400 kilograms of dried grain, so after it’s spent, it weighs much more. That adds up pretty quick,” says Gavin Anderson, craft brewer and owner of Anderson Ales in London.
Describing his company as a mid-sized craft brewery, Anderson says it would cost around $600 per week to discard that amount of spent grains as organic waste. However, connections with local livestock farmers – all of whom reached out to Anderson on their own initiative – mean such costs are not incurred.
Anderson Ales currently deals with five different farmers. The grains are provided free of charge, though coordinating mutually-practical times for them to pickup the product can be a challenge.
“We have to have it picked up at specific times. It’s not always ideal for the farmer to come in the afternoon,” Anderson says.
“In the summer, it goes funky pretty quick.”
Farmers and ranchers are just as important to larger brewers. According to Greg Rutledge, national brewmaster for Sleeman Breweries in Guelph, local farmers absorb 100 per cent of the 1,200 metric tons of spent grains generated by his company each month. Like Stoneman, Sleeman engages a broker to make the much-needed connection.
Rutledge says making ready use of the livestock feed market is part of a wider company initiative to ensure no by-product is wasted. Leftover yeast is similarly sold as a high-quality livestock feed additive.
“We take it pretty seriously,” says Rutledge. “If we can’t get rid of by-products, we can’t brew beer.”
Savings On The Farm
Though some breweries give spent grains away for free, larger quantities are monetized. The high nutritional value, however, means the transaction makes practical sense for many farmers.
Deliveries of spent grains to Stoneman’s farm come largely from breweries like Molson, Labatt, and Steam Whistle. While he says some livestock farmers do work with local craft breweries to pick up the product, absorbing additional purchasing and shipping costs makes sense given the volumes he requires.
Overall, spent grains offer a way to drastically reduce the cost of raising his cattle.
“If we supplemented with protein pellets or a higher-priced grain, our costs would be much higher. Spent grains saves 32 per cent on our feed,” Stoneman says.
“The savings are huge.”