The worst drought in decades has destroyed more than half the U.S. corn crop, pushing prices to record levels and squeezing livestock owners as they struggle to feed their herds.
To cope, one Kentucky cattle farmer has turned to a child-tested way to fatten his 1,400 cows: candy.
"It's so hard to make any money when corn is eight or nine dollars a bushel," said Nick Smith, co-owner of United Livestock Commodities in Mayfield, Ky.
The chocolate and other sweet stuff was rejected by retailers. It makes up 5% to 8% of the cattle's feed ration, Smith said. The rest includes roughage and distillers grain, an ethanol byproduct.
The candy's high caloric content is fattening up the cows nicely, Smith said.
Paul Cameron, who heads a California Cattlemen's Assn. feed committee, said Smith's candy strategy is "awfully creative" but also extremely unusual.
"There are people that feed vegetables and potatoes and stuff like that … to offset the high price of grains, but I've never heard of that," said Cameron, managing partner of Mesquite Cattle Feeders, an operation that feeds up to 35,000 head of cattle in Brawley, Calif. "He's probably at an advantage by doing that."
Smith, whose cows got a star turn on the local news, said he is baffled by the attention. The candy was just temporary, he said, because workers are harvesting his farm's corn, some of which will end up as feed.