Cody Smith doesn’t have to worry about how he will feed his cows on his Plain City farm.
Instead of buying feed in bulk from a store, he gives his breeding cows spent grain from breweries.
Spent grain is the malt and grain that remain after most of the sugars, proteins and nutrients have been removed in the brewing process. It can constitute as much as 85% of a brewery's total byproduct, according to craftbeer.com.
Collin Castore, co-founder of Seventh Son Brewery, 1101 N. 4th St. in Italian Village, has a silo designated for spent grain. Once a week, Smith loads 8,000 to 12,000 pounds of the grain into his semitrailer and hauls it home.
"We wouldn't have anywhere to put it," Castore said. "It’s a large amount of non-reusable matter for us, and it just takes up space."
Smith, a member of the Bluescreek Farm Meats family, has been picking up Seventh Son’s spent grain for seven years. He said he feeds it to his breeding cattle to help them "bulk up" and get an energy boost, especially in the winter.
Jamie Johnson, general manager of Bluescreek and Smith's sister, said the farm had to purchase the semitrailer to accommodate the grain. While the grain is free, there are transportation costs.
"We’ve always been open to reuse things and have as little waste as possible," Johnson said. "It’s a lot of extra work on our end, but we don’t mind."
Columbus Brewing Company, 2555 Harrison Road in Valleyview, also gives its spent grain to farmers, said Eric Bean, company president. He said the company produces 6,000 to 8,000 pounds of spent grain per day.
Bean said the practice doesn't get a lot of attention, but giving spent grain to farmers is common.
"This is what everyone does," Bean said. "It’s a byproduct that makes for good feed for the animals, and for us to do anything else with it would be an expense to the brewing process."
Breweries must obtain a license through the Ohio Department of Agriculture to offer their spent grain as livestock feed. In Ohio, 21 breweries are registered to manufacture and distribute commercial feed, according to department records.
Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, 215 N. 4th St. Downtown, gives its spent grain to both a farmer in Chillicothe and a vegetable farm, Freshtown Farms.
Keeping the grain out of landfills provides an economic benefit, said Erika Roth, sustainability ambassador for Wolf’s Ridge.
"By removing the excess waste from our waste stream, we are reducing the amount of pickups needed from our local trash service provider and therefore saving costs," Roth said. "More importantly, though, we are diverting the amount of waste we contribute to landfills and thus reducing the amount of methane produced."
The amount of grain available varies, depending on the production schedule and the type of beer being brewed. Roth said that on average, the brewery produces 5,000 to 7,000 pounds of dry spent grain each week.
Freshtown Farms uses spent grain as part of its composting process. The farm has been around for two growing seasons and owns three different plots in Columbus, said co-owner Marcie Villars.
She mixes the spent grain with wood chips throughout soil beds to raise the beds off the ground and improve the composting rate. Once the wood chips break down in two to three years, the soild should be healthy and deep.
While the grain helps the plants grow, Villars said she has to be careful about what is planted in the mixture. The grain is too sulfurous for tomatoes and peppers and makes them grow leaves and not fruit. Leafy greens work best, she said.
"The wood chips steal the nitrogen in the compost to break them down," Villars said. "The spent grains are briefly high in nitrogen and sulfur. Those are the things we need to counteract the wood chips."
She works with Platform Beer Co., 408 N. 6th St. Downtown, picking up grain from the business once a month; Parsons North Brewing Company, 685 Parsons Ave. in German Village, twice a month; and most frequently Wolf’s Ridge Brewery, every Monday. The truckloads range from 200 to 1,700 pounds.
"Anywhere we can help each other in the community is a great partnership," Villars said. "They’re giving us their waste that they would usually haul away, and we’re getting fertility out of it."