If it was not for dairy cows and their ability to consume the byproducts from other industries, the environmental sustainability of many industries would look far different. But this detail is often left out when different areas of the food industry are pitted against each other.
Dairy is unfairly accused of being an unsustainable food, especially when there are alternative beverages like almond “milk” available.
And it is ironic that dairy cows are often fed almond hulls — a byproduct of the milk alternative — as part of their feed. Would more people think badly of almond “milk” or consider it less environmentally friendly if this fact was mentioned more often?
With the demand for almonds comes the need to use up almond shells and hulls so they do not end up in landfills. The hulls and shells of almonds are often used as bedding for livestock or feed for cows. Almond hulls are not consumed by humans, but they can be included in feed for dairy cows, as they are easy to transport and store.
And that’s not uncommon. Dairy cows need to eat up to 100 lbs. of food each day depending on their size, but they receive a nutritious, sustainable diet in part because of the byproducts they consume. With their four-chambered stomachs, cows can break down products humans cannot and use the energy and nutrients in these products that would otherwise go to waste.
In addition to the almond hulls, cows eat byproducts like citrus pulps, cottonseed, soybeans, canola, and more. Cows keep the waste of other industries down, using the energy from these meals to produce milk for a variety of dairy products.
Agriculture is a complex industry that relies on many factors to keep the planet healthy and the food supply steady. Dairy cows eating the byproducts of other industries to reduce food waste is one of the ways cows help not only the dairy industry become more environmentally friendly, but agriculture overall.
That detail should not be overlooked.
To learn more about dairy’s role in creating a more resource and environmentally sustainable food system, read our Sustainability and Dairy section.