Quality and safety of hemp meal as a protein supplement for nonlactating dairy cows

J Dairy Sci. 2023 Nov;106(11):7602-7612. doi: 10.3168/jds.2023-23222. Epub 2023 Aug 23.


Hemp seed meal may be a suitable protein supplement for dairy cows, but its quality and safety as a dairy cow feed has not yet been fully investigated. As a result, dry matter intake (DMI), rumen fermentation, blood metabolites, total-tract digestibility, and concentrations of cannabinoids in blood plasma, urine, muscle, and adipose tissues were compared among nonlactating Holstein dairy cows receiving a basal partial mixed ration that was supplemented with either 10.2% dry matter (DM) hemp meal (HM treatment), 13.5% DM canola meal (CM treatment), or 6.25% DM hemp meal and 6.16% DM canola meal (HC treatment). Diets were formulated to be isoenergetic and isonitrogenous. Six nonlactating, nonpregnant Holstein cows were used in a repeated 3 × 3 Latin square design trial with three 3-wk experimental periods. The first 2 weeks of each served as adaptation. Sample and data collection occurred during the third week of each period. Neither the partial mixed ration nor canola meal contain cannabidiol (CBD), cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), d9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid A (THCA). However, the hemp meal contained 3.0, 4.4, 0, and 0.1 μg/g DM of CBD, CBDA, THC, and THCA, respectively. Treatment did not affect DMI, pH, concentrations of volatile fatty acids or ammonia in the rumen, total-tract digestibilities of DM and crude protein, or blood plasma concentrations of glucose, urea, β-hydroxybutyrate, and nonesterified fatty acids. Hence, based on these metabolites, treatment did not affect the nutritional status of the cows. However, the total-tract neutral detergent fiber digestibility of the CM treatment (43%) was higher than that of the HM treatment (38%). No cannabinoids were detected in blood plasma, rumen fluid, and urine. Cannabinoids were also not detected in kidney, liver, urine, muscle, or adipose tissues at the end of the experiment when cows had undergone all treatments. Feces from all treatments did not contain detectable concentrations of THC or THCA, but feces of cows on the HC treatment contained 0.42 and 0.40 μg/g DM of CBD and CBDA, respectively. Feces of cows on the HM treatment contained 0.68 and 0.67 μg/g DM of CBD and CBDA, respectively. This indicated that most ingested CBD and CBDA were not absorbed but instead were excreted in the feces. Our data show dietary inclusion rates of up to 10.2% of DM. We find that hemp meal is a high-quality and safe protein supplement for nonlactating dairy cows.

Keywords: cannabinoids; hemp meal; nonlactating dairy cows.