Adding hemp to chicken feed may provide a way for farmers to enrich their eggs, according to a recent German study.
While farmers often give flax or chia seeds – both rich in omega-3 fats – to egg-laying hens, hemp seed is rarely if ever used.
But with hemp production on a worldwide rise, scientists at the Federal Research Institute for Animal Health wanted to figure out whether by-products of hemp could be used as an alternative feed supplement.
Published in the Journal of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, their study suggests that feed made from hemp can be safely given to hens while providing egg farmers with the “possibility of the enrichment of yolk fat.”
Hemp seed cake, the by-product of pressing hemp for oil, was compared with rapeseed cake, a popular feed supplement among German egg farmers, and the less common linseed cake. THC and CBD levels in the hemp cake were both below 0.005%.
While the study was the first to compare hemp with other omega fat sources, similar results were achieved last year with hemp seed and hemp seed oil at the University of Manitoba, Canada. Up to 20% of feed was supplemented without any negative effects on the hens, the authors wrote.
“The inclusion of the hemp products HS or HO in the diets of laying hens up to a maximum level of 20 and 12%, respectively, does not adversely effect the performance of laying hens and leads to the enrichment of the n-3 fatty acid content of eggs.”
In the latest study, hens that were fed hemp produced the largest eggs by weight. The egg yolks were also richer in omega-3 fats than the yolks from hens in the rapeseed group, but not the yolks from linseed hens.
Livestock feed could be a smart way to use by-products of hemp that would otherwise be treated as waste. Unfortunately, laws vary by country and even major hemp producers like Canada have yet to approve the use of hemp in livestock feed – citing a lack of research on its safety.