Western Australian Government Eyes Hemp For Sheep Fodder

Hemp as sheep feed
Image: SkitterPhoto

The government of the Australian state of Western Australia is backing a research project delving into hemp’s potential as a feed source for sheep.

Australia is a land of drought and flooding rains, with the former more common – and increasingly so. During the current drought that has impacted much of the country, the cost of feed for livestock skyrocketed.

The use of hemp could prove to be a good way to keep bellies full, while also taking pressure of hay prices. However, there is a ban in place on using it as stock feed in Australia, as in a number of other countries.

At the Australian Industrial Hemp conference held in Fremantle on Wednesday, WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan announced the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development is teaming up with ChemCentre WA and Charles Sturt University to test the nutritional value of hemp as a summer grazing option for sheep.

“Research, such as the new livestock trials announced today, is vital to help fill information gaps and give growers, processors and innovators the knowledge to take this industry to the next level,” said Minister MacTiernan.

Some of the gaps mentioned by the minister could easily be filled as there has already been significant research into using hemp seed meal as a stock fodder. It’s not just the seed that is useful either – farmers in The Netherlands have been feeding cattle industrial hemp fiber as a supplement for decades.

A lot of the concern around using hemp as stock feed is the potential transfer of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to meat and other products. While by legal definition hemp is very low in THC, meat products supplied for human consumption in Australia are not permitted to contain detectable levels of the cannabinoid. This is where zero-THC strains of hemp could be particularly attractive, and some have already been developed.

Western Australia’s government has been keen to support the state’s hemp sector.

“The McGowan Government has provided grants worth more than $400,000 to industry over the past 15 months to support hemp research, development and processing,” said Minister MacTiernan.

The minister stated hemp licences in Western Australia had doubled over the past two years, and there were 70+ commercial crops and seven hemp research plot trials this season, utilising 22 hemp varieties.

Learn more about other agricultural uses for hemp.