Pressing Spent Brewers Grains to improve its use as alternative feed: A Study of its effect on Dairy Sheep and Meat lambs

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2009: $9,992.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Ells Perry


  • Animals: sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed management

    Proposal summary:

    In 2007 and 2008, US agriculture was hit with a double shot - high fuel prices and rising grain costs. This has tested the sustainability of all types of farming, but especially those operations with grain fed animals. Feed expenses represent approximately 60% of the cost of a livestock operation. Finding a high quality alternative feed or protein source that is more cost effective can mean the difference between success and failure in farming. This project attempts to improve the current practice of collecting and storing spent microbrewery grain for use as a livestock feed on small farms.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The project will test portable dewatering equipment and its ability to reduce air pollution, conserve fuel, decrease farm costs and improve farm efficiency and production. The project will also produce valuable data on comparing the nutritional value of brewer’s grains versus conventional grain and their effect on milk volume and components in a sheep dairy and its use as a feed for fattening meat lambs. Of the 30 microbreweries in Maine having farmer’s pick-up their spent grain, not a single one uses a press before or after transport to improve efficiency - this project will bring this technology to Maine. The results will be useful to any small farmer in the US looking at spent grain from microbreweries as a possible alternative feed.

    Methods of study

    This project has 3 main research areas: Milking operation, Market lambs, Using the Screw Press. The project also has data collection areas: milk testing at Dairy One, Weighing lambs/calculating rate of gain, microbrewery spent grain testing at Dairy One, recording grain weights, storage observations, fuel usage/transport costs - wet vs. pressed grain.

    Milking Operation: Beginning April 1, using the farm’s handling system, we will divide the milking group in half randomly. Ewes will also be weighed and condition scored. One half will be fed conventional grain, one half fed brewer’s grain. Based on nutritional analysis of the brewery grain, a custom supplement or pellet may or may not be supplied by Blue Seal Feed for a balanced dairy ration.

    Before each milking the ewes will be sorted, and fed their assigned grain at milking. Once a month, for a total of 5 months, milk will be sampled from each ewe, volume recorded and sent to Dairy One for analysis. Ewes will also be weighed and condition scored at mid-lactation by a veterinarian. End of June, and at drying up, mid-September for additional data. Between milkings the ewes will rotationally graze pasture, together.

    Market lambs: There will be a rolling weaning, beginning April 1 (30-50 days depending on when they reach 30 lbs., standard for sheep dairies), wean weights of lambs will be gathered using the farm scale. Their sex will be recorded and then they will be divided in half randomly and put in two separate pastures. Lambs’ pastures will be managed using the rotational grazing method. Before weaning, lambs were consuming conventional grain in their creep rations, along with hay.

    After weaning each group will be fed the same out of grain per head, one group the conventional grain, the other group the brewery grain. For the lambs being fed brewery grain there will be a one week gradual change – blending of conventional and brewery grains. This will be to minimize digestive upsets. Based on nutritional analysis of the brewery grain, a custom supplement or pellet may or may not be supplied by Blue Seal Feed for a balanced grower ration; the farmer will consult with the Technical advisor on ration analysis. When lambs reach market weight – approximately 100-110 lbs live weight – the rate of gain will be calculated-(Market weight – wean weight)/#days from weaning to market weight). At the end of the season we will compare lbs gained on conventional grain vs. brewery grain.

    The Screw Press, Transport and Storage: At the end of March, a Vincent KP 6 Screw Press, (most economical model) will be shipped from Florida, and brought to Gritty’s Brew Pub in Freeport, Maine, the closest microbrewery with enough supply to conduct the project. The brewery is roughly one hour, 55 miles south of the farm. It is known that web brewers grain (BG) should not be stored for more than a week due to fermentation and mold growth. At a maximum, trips will be made once per week using the farm truck. With the use of the screw press, we hope to be able to reduce the frequency of trips by lengthening storage time.

    Other brewery options are Andrews in Lincolnville, Three Tides in Belfast and Sheepscot in Whitefield. These breweries may become available sources of spent grain if they expand. On pick-up day, the spent grain will be weighed wet, and then a batch loaded into the screw press at the brewery. Afterwards, a pressed sample will be taken and then the rest of batch will be placed in 55 gallon drums and lifted into the farm truck. The once a month sample will be sent to Dairy One in NY. Daily internal temperatures using a Probe thermometer will be recorded at the farm to watch for spoilage and observe storage conditions and length. Weather details will also be recorded to see how this affects grain spoilage. The farm’s tractor will be used to unload the grain from the truck. All grain fed will be measured, both conventional and BG using the farm’s scale.

    The farm currently feeds out 15 tons of conventional grain a year. This will be halved and it is estimated that between 500-700 lbs. of BG will be fed out each week to one half the milkers and one half the meat lambs. The lambs being fed conventional grain will be kept separate at an additional pasture “free-leased” in town. For baseline data, one pick-up will be done with un-pressed grain to determine transport costs of unpressed grain. The press will be returned 7 months later in November.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.