NCSU Researchers Wrap-Up Initial Hemp in Animal Feed Trial

— Written By Emily Febles and last updated by
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2/12/2018 – In December, Prestage Department of Poultry Science researchers, Dr. Carm Parkhurst and Dr. Chris Ashwell, completed an initial study that utilized industrial hemp seed cake in poultry diets. Seed cake is the leftover residue after the seed is pressed for seed oil. Hemp seed cake as a feedstuff compares fairly closely to soybean oil meal.

Three different diets were formulated. Researchers replaced a portion of the soybean oil meal with hemp seed cake at the NC State feedmill. These diets were then fed to male broiler chicks in a 3-week battery trial. This initial study looked at palatability, livability, growth and feed conversion. Researchers say that the results were encouraging and there was no effect on palatability for the chicks. The livability was also 100% in all treatments. The study also showed that as the amount of hemp seed cake in the feeds increased, the weights of the chicks increased significantly. However, this initial study showed that the feed conversion ratios declined and this finding suggests that additional analysis of hemp seed cake is needed when considering it as a replacement for soybean oil meal in animal feeds.

several chicks being fed

Chicks Being Fed Trial Hemp Feed at the Prestage Dept. of Poultry Science
photo credit Chelsea Phillips

Samples of the trial feeds were also sent to the laboratory for analysis for chemical residues.

Industrial hemp are types of Cannabis bred for their fiber and nutritional benefits. Hemp has a drastically different chemical profile from marijuana strains bred selectively for recreational, medical, religious purposes. While marijuana contains high levels of THC (Δ9–tetrahydrocannabinol), a major psychoactive cannabinoid, industrial varieties of hemp contain virtually none of this chemical compound.

Dr. Slavko Komarnytsky, of the NC State Plants for Human Health Institute, and his team, in collaboration with the Dr. Xu Li lab, analyzed the feed samples and found that they contained no traceable amounts of THC. THC is the chemical that produces the “high” or euphoric effect in other Cannabis plants.

woman prepping feed samples for analysis

NC State Lab Specialist, Jade Ogg, Prepping the Feed Samples for Chemical Residues Analysis

If a seed oil-extraction industry is to be economically viable, a market must be found for the residual seed cake. The relative high crude protein of the hemp seed cake indicates that it may be used most efficiently as a protein supplement in animal feeds. The ability to use industrial hemp in commercial animal feeds would provide a valuable end-market for industrial hemp farmers. Currently, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved industrial hemp for use in animal feeds. The valuable work being done at NC State by researchers, such as Dr. Parkhurst, Dr. Ashwell, Dr. Komarnytsky and their teams, will be vital in finally securing FDA approval and the successful conclusion of this initial study indicates that NC State is in the position to lead that charge.

This initial feed trial was made possible by the generous gift support of:
Justin Hamilton, Hempleton Investment Group
Gary Sikes, Bio-Regen Cooperative 
Chad Rosen, Victory Hemp Foods

Email the NC Industrial Hemp Program at: