It's not often your nutritionist tells you to eat sweets.
But a growing number of dairy farmers looking for innovative feed sources are using sweet food waste to boost milk production.
Some use cakes, others use sweet biscuits but for Belmore River, NSW, dairy farmers Brett and Sue McGinn it's liquorish, chocolate and marshmallows that are being used in a balanced ration feed mix.
Based on advice from a dairy specific nutritionist, the McGinns are trialling one kilogram of confectionary food waste per cow each day as an energy source.
"We add energy to the diet usually with waste barley from Nestle mixed with oaten hay and decided to add confectionery as a trial using diet advice from a nutritionist," Mrs McGinn said.
"The benefits of the lollies are that it's broken up into pieces so no one cow can guts it."
And while the trial is only in the preliminary stages, the McGinns have already seen an increase in milk production.
"As farmers, we need to be innovative and look at other food sources to help with the farming operation," Mrs McGinn said.
"And as the saying goes, one man's waste is another's feed source."
Consulting animal nutritionist Phil Pittolo, who is based at Bega, NSW, said using food waste as an additional supplement to a well-balanced ration feed was not new.
"There has been a long history of using food waste at various levels for animal feed, if you go back far enough every flour mill had a stock feed mill next it because of the left overs from making flour, which we now call mill mix," Mr Pittolo said.
But Mr Pittolo said it was getting the right quantity and a consistent supply of food waste to add to the mix that could be difficult to manage.
"Irregular supply and varying quality are the things that impact on the value of these components," he said.
"If you consistently get chocolate bullets then you know the material is the same as buying different truck loads of hay."
Mr Pittolo said there were a couple of dairy farmers using confectionery in their feed ration while many used biscuit meal from cookies or breakfast cereals.
"When it comes to waste products, they are things that are left over, the wrong size or colour, but then we get differences in consistency and quality, that makes it more difficult to manage," he said.
That's why it's important to get the consistency right, Mr Pittolo says, because then farmers can reap the benefits.
He said the benefits of using sweet treats was that lollies were traditionally sugary, which increased energy similar to carbohydrates and could boost milk production.
"It's very palatable when you mix sweets with meal to help drive impact. Not only are you getting more energy but they are eating all their food," he said.
"Instead of eating 20kg of dry matter intake they are eating 21kg so there are net advantages."
With nutrition versus price, he said if you paid reasonable market price for the waste product it gave value, but like with any feedstuff, it all came down to return on cost.
Sweet advice for feed ration
Mr Pittolo says if farmers are going to use sweet treats in their dairy feed ration then they should make sure they understand the product and always speak to a professional to get the right balance.
Some of his tips include:
- Mix food waste products well with the rest of the feed so each cow gets the right quantity.
- Look for products that have a consistent supply to minimise ration changes.
- Be wary of high moisture materials like vegetable waste, which might seem cheap to start with but are expensive on a dry matter basis.
- Manage sweet tooth dependency, if it is removed from the diet, they will complain if it's no longer there.
- Seek nutritional advice specific for the herd.
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