Brewers Spent Grain
What it is, why and how we use it
Brewers spent grain (BSG) is barley that has been soaked in warm water in order to extract from it the sugars in the grain. This is the first part of the brewing process to make beer. It creates a hot mash, kind of like hot cereal/oatmeal. The water and sugars move down the line as "wort" to become beer and what's left behind is called brewers spent grain. For every 6 pack of beer, about a pound of BSG is created. It is considered a by-product but it is far from being garbage. In fact, great effort is being made by many innovative minds to find ways to rescue this co-product from a trip to the landfilll and make a more complete use from what it has to offer.
BSG is high in fiber, protein and micronutrients. It is also a very economical, abundant and sustainable source of feed for livestock.
I only offer BSG to cattle in pastures where the forage quality alone is insufficient to meet their nutritional needs and always in combination with grasses that have been hayed. There are folks out there that will tell you that a barley finished cow makes for the best tasting beef, but for our operation, BSG is truly a supplement used only if and when needed.
A big reason for this goes back to our goal to be in-sync with nature. Cattle are ruminant animals. The first of their four stomachs is the rumen and this is where their food first meets up with digestive enzymes. The acidity and ph balance of the rumen for cattle is very important and somewhat delicate in order to keep them in prime health. When cattle are fed grain in abundance it gives rise to a different set of digestive enzymes and this increases the acidity of the rumen which will negatively impact the overall health of the animal. This is especially true if this goes on for a prolonged period of time.
A cow's rumen health and overall health also directly impacts the kind and quality of fats they create and store. A grass fed cow that is eating its natural diet will create more omega-3 fatty acids as opposed to the omega-6 fatty acids that most Americans already consume in abundance.
It is for these reasons that will are very careful to regulate that our cattle are never offered too much BSG to negatively impact the state of their rumen. Cattle that are offered BSG are also offered free choice sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to help self-regulate should they be feeling a little overly acidic in their tummies. This is the cow equivalent to your uncle Bob popping a TUMS Antacid after overindulging during a delicious meal. It is kind of amazing to think cattle can self-regulate like this but field experience indicates it is a real thing.
More Information about BSG
If you're still here, it might be because you too find this topic interesting.
From livestock feed to biomass steam boiler that powers a brewery, the uses for BSG are as impressive as they are expanding. It is used for composting and creating healthy soil amendments. It is also used to grow fungi and active cultures. The tricky thing about BSG is that is has a short shelf life (about 4 days worth) after the brewery is finished with it. This along with transporting it (it is approximately 70% water) are the big limiting factors that make it difficult to upcycle BSG more easily. I have a crude sun-drying processes that helps extend its life slightly. Still, folks are trying to tackle those problems. See below for a case in point with a company called Regrained.
More on animal science and diet
If you're still still here, it might be because you find this topic as interesting as I do.
I became interested in nutritional science and our food systems when our oldest was 6 months old, ready for table foods and we decided to try out a paleo diet. She's seven now and we're still at it. Our health is directly tied to the health of what we eat. As a cattle producer, I want the beef we raise to be both good for you and delicious. I've added interesting articles below about cattle rumen health and an important component of a healthy diet, the omega 3 to 6 fatty acids ratio.