Researchers Earn USDA Grant to Study Hemp in Cattle Feed

The $200,000 grant will help the researchers determine the concentrations of cannabinoids in livestock after they’ve eaten hemp feed.

September 7, 2020

Researchers at Kansas State University have recently earned a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to study hemp in cattle feed.

The $200,000 Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant from the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture will help the researchers determine the concentrations of cannabinoids in livestock after exposure to industrial hemp.

While hemp is federally legal, it needs approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM) as well as the Association of American Feed Control.

"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 university's College of Veterinary Medicine, in a news release.

READ MORE: Hemp Feed Coalition Makes Inroads on Including Hempseed in Chicken Feed

The research team at Kansas State University is comprised of pharmacologists, toxicologists, analytical chemists and horticulture experts. The hemp used in the studies was grown at K-State's John C. Pair Horticultural Center near Wichita.

The team has already found that acidic cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) are more easily absorbed into cattles’ stomach (called the rumen) than other cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (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,” said Katie Kleinhenz, a researcher on the project. “The effects of cannabinoids on cattle are also unknown."

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."

While this is a significant step in including hemp in cattle feed, including any new ingredient in animal feed is an arduous process that often takes years. Applications must be submitted for each part of the hemp plant for each animal—for instance, hempseed cake for chickens would be a completely different application than hempseed cake for lambs. This can only be done after ample research is conducted