Written by

Mark Fahey

As milk prices hover at record highs, dairy farmers are hard-pressed to squeeze every drop of milk out of every available udder. Cows need energy, and one popular way to power their rampant milk-making is to feed them tallow—recycled fat from other cows.

Not only can melting some fat into cow feed increase milk production, improve fertility, and reduce the dustiness of all that grain, but feeding cows the greasy remnants of their butchered brothers actually upsets their stomachs less than vegetarian options like sunflower seeds or cottonseed, which can bother their delicate ruminant innards with their unsaturated fats.

Modern dairy farmers constantly sort through the prices of different feeds to improve their bottom line, and tallow is an old favorite. If a famer is buying fat, what he’s really buying is energy, said Dr. Kevin Harvatine, assistant professor of nutritional physiology at Penn State. It can come in the form of corn, byproduct from bakeries, or a barrel of congealed cow fat, but each choice has its own economic logic and its own health effects, he said.

“It can be a cup of corn or a cup of fat,” said David Meeker, vice president of the National Renderers Association (the other, lesser-known NRA). “The spike in feed prices and pressure on productivity because of milk prices have sent them back to the books and looking at all the alternatives.”

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