Fact Check

Do Farmers Feed Cows Skittles?

Cattle diets typically consist of corn, hay, and other plant-based foods, but farmers occasionally do pad their feed with candy.

Published Jan 25, 2017

 (Ekaterina_Minaeva / Shutterstock, Inc.)
Image Via Ekaterina_Minaeva / Shutterstock, Inc.
Farmers feed their cattle candy, such as Skittles.

In January 2017, a truck carrying a load of red Skittles spilled thousands of the sweet candies on the side of a Wisconsin road. While the sight stirred up some interest on the internet, social media users were flummoxed when they discovered the intended destination of the candy: a cattle farm.

The Skittles were confirmed to have fallen off the back of a truck. The truck was a flatbed pickup and the Skittles were in a large box. Due to it raining at the time, the box got wet and gave way allowing the Skittles to spill out on the roadway. It is reported that the Skittles were intended to be feed for cattle as they did not make the cut for packaging at the company. In the end these Skittles are actually for the Birds!

While many were shocked to learn that farmers had intended to feed the Skittles to cows, this practice has been going on for several years.  In 2012, CNN reported that several farmers had started feeding their cattle candy due to a corn shortage:

Feeding candy to cows has become a more popular practice in tandem with the rising price of corn, which has doubled since 2009, fueled by government-subsidized demand for ethanol and this year's drought.Thrifty and resourceful farmers are tapping into the obscure market for cast-off food ingredients. Cut-rate byproducts of dubious value for human consumption seem to make fine fodder for cows. While corn goes for about $315 a ton, ice-cream sprinkles can be had for as little as $160 a ton.

"As the price of corn has climbed, farmers either sold off their pigs and cattle, or they found alternative feeds," said Mike Yoder, a dairy farmer in Middlebury, Ind. He feeds his 400 cows bits of candy, hot chocolate mix, crumbled cookies, breakfast cereal, trail mix, dried cranberries, orange peelings and ice cream sprinkles, which are blended into more traditional forms of feed, like hay.

The farmer said that he goes over the feed menu every couple of weeks with a livestock nutritionist who advised him to cap the candy at 3% of a cow's diet. He said that the sugar in ice cream sprinkles seems to increase milk production by three pounds per cow per day.

John Waller, a professor of animal nutrition at the University of Tennessee, told Live Science that farmers have been using candy to pad out cow feed for years:

"I think it's a viable [diet]," Waller said. "It keeps fat material from going out in the landfill, and it's a good way to get nutrients in these cattle. The alternative would be to put [the candy] in a landfill somewhere."

According to Waller, padding out cow feed with waste candy is nothing new. He says he first heard of Tennessee cattle raisers using candy years back, and that throughout the country, whether it's orange rinds in Florida or almond hulls in California, beef producers are serving the hard-to-get-rid-of byproducts of local food industry to their herds.

"Ruminant animals are very good at utilizing a wide variety of feedstuffs, because the microbes in the rumen can digest things that other animals can't utilize," he said.

While it's true that farmers feed candy to their cattle, cows are not being fed troughs filled with nothing but Skittles. The candies are mixed in with other materials to create animal feed:

Linda Kurtz, a corporate environmental manager at Mars, said the company sells unused candies and ingredients to processors that incorporate them with other materials to make animal feed. She said Mars does not sell directly to farmers, and its procedures follow Food and Drug Administration regulations.


Associated Press.   "Mars Investigating Skittles Said to Be Intended for Cattle."     20 January 2017.

Smith, Aaron.   "Cash-Strapped Farmers Feed Candy to Cows."     CNN.   10 October 2012.

MacKinnon, Eli.   "Candy Not Corn for Cows in Drought."     Live Science.   23 August 2012.

Gillam, Carey.   "Sweet Times for Cows as Gummy Worms Replace Costly Corn Feed."     Reuters.   23 September 2012.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.