URBANA — The cows here are eating the stuff that's used in beer-making. But don't expect your child to be growing a taste for Budweiser.
Byproducts from Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis just come a lot cheaper than corn at its high post-drought prices. The University of Illinois is also working with cotton byproducts in its dairy farms south of Urbana.
UI dairy expert Michael F. Hutjens said he's heard of just about everything from candy to Fritos being fed to our bovine friends since corn prices spiked this summer.
"Candy is a good source of nutrients," he said.
For cows, that is: We don't have the four stomach compartments — the rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum — needed to wring every last molecule from grass, corn or Junior Mints.
The candy and chips have been ruled too broken or otherwise unfit for Homo sapiens, so they come cheap, Hutjens said. Ethanol byproducts are also used.
Not so our state's biggest ag products. Corn, for instance, is running a little pricey to be used as feed rather than delicious niblets.
Roger Miller, chief executive officer of Premier Cooperatives in Champaign County, said corn is running "basically at $7.50 a bushel."
"It was up as high as $8.25 this summer," Miller said. "Two years ago, it was $4.50."
Hutjens' cows are getting brewery grain at $60 a ton.
"It's a real deal," he said.
And no, the UI barn doesn't smell like a brewery. It smells exactly how you'd think a dairy barn would smell. (It's also important to watch where you step.)
The grain used to be dried before being sold, Hutjens said, but it's cheaper to send it out wet.
A cow can eat 25 to 30 pounds of brewery grain a day, he said, watching the slow but steady grinding work being done by Illini Remington Babs.
Fuzzy cotton seed is full of oil, protein and fiber and runs $320 a ton. It's used to supplement feed, and cows don't eat as much of it, Hutjens said.
"We have to balance it out," he said.
Candy is out of the question, and it's not to save young cows from cavities.
"No way can we afford to buy M&Ms," Hutjens said — even the imperfect ones wholesalers reject.
He said the cow is a magnificent animal that brings us milk even when the original source is straw or waste potatoes.
He knows farmers who use Kellogg's byproducts or damaged cookies, and it's all good.
"Somebody was able to get sprinkles for half the price of corn," Hutjens said.