Making the Most of Beer

Beer?! For farming? Yes, well, not quite. There’s a major by-product of beer that is considered a waste product: Spent brewer’s grains. You see, to make beer, grains like barley and wheat need to be soaked in hot water first. These grains are typically discarded after this soaking process. However, these grains are still chock-full of nutrients and protein. Even better is that the soaking process unlocks more nutrients and even begins beneficial bacteria to gain a foothold.

Livestock like cattle and sheep are actually the best at completing this unlocking process. Sheep and cattle, being ruminants, have multiple stomach chambers made for breaking down plant matter with the help of beneficial stomach bacteria. Pigs and chickens only have one stomach and aren’t as efficient at this process of breaking down plant cells into energy. That being said, all the livestock enjoy a little spent grain from time to time.

Feeding spent grains to animals is a practice nearly as old as farming. Monasteries would brew beer and then feed the spent grains to their livestock. It only makes sense that since the product came from the farm, it should return to a farm, right? Since the malting process only extracts the sugars and starches from the grain, there is so much left in the grain that can be used for feeding livestock or improving soil through means of composting or mulching. Feeding it to livestock is probably the most beneficial use of the product though!

As I’ve said in previous posts, the sheep and cattle get some grain in the winter. This grain helps give them the necessary energy to keep warm during the winter. Spent grains are an even more nutritious method of providing this grain in a more natural way. Spent grain is high in protein and fiber, but is also high in moisture as it is only drained, not dried after being soaked. Ruminants can access the high protein content far better than other livestock, so for pigs and chickens, it is a good energy source, but not a very high protein source.

Spent grains are high in digestible fiber as the malting process removes starches, which allow the grain to be more digestible. In addition to having high fiber and protein content, spent grain also contain a number of phenolic compounds. These compounds have many positive qualities such as being antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic. It also has many essential and non-essential amino acids and many vitamins and mineral such as biotin, choline, niacin, folic acid, and vitamin E, among many others. All of these qualities of the spent grains are often transferred into the meat and fat of the animal, improving the beneficial qualities of the end product!

When there is too much grain and not even mouths though, the earth gets her fair share too. Spent grain makes an excellent addition to compost. It encourages the pile to rapidly break down and turn into the beautiful soil supplement that nourishes plants and enriches the soil. During hot, dry days it can be used as mulch. The top layer of spent grains dries quickly, preventing it from becoming a disgusting mess and bring about flies while retaining moisture at soil level and providing a wonderful habitat for earthworms and other beneficial creatures.

All in all, spent brewers grains are a massive gain on any farm! I’m still learning all the ways spent grains can be a benefit, but the mooing and baaing from the sheep and cattle is a definite sign that these grains are going to good use! They love their nightly snack and it’s a blast watching the chickens scratch through the dropped hay to find the spent grains I’ve scattered for them!


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