Just after Halloween, millions of carved and un-carved pumpkins are tossed in waste. It’s estimated that nearly 40m pounds are binned in the UK every year and more than 1 billion pounds in the US.
Beyond one or two purchased pumpkins thrown out by each household, excess pumpkins from grocery stores, pumpkin patch attractions and large scale decorations present an even bigger waste problem.
There are small scale campaigns to raise awareness of the issue, as pumpkins decomposing in landfills contribute harmful methane gas into the atmosphere. Composting is a popular solution, but that requires collection stations or community gatherings as the average consumer doesn’t have the means to compost at home.
Consumption is an obvious recommendation, but humans can only enjoy leftover un-carved pumpkins, and letting wildlife eat the decor is not ideal. But dairy farmers have a better answer - feeding them to cows.
Cows used as the 'ultimate recyclers'
In upstate New York, Tim and Erica Leubner run a pumpkin patch in the fall as well as Maple Lane Farms Dairy. Starting the day after Halloween, the team begins hauling the remaining pumpkins from its 65-acre patch to its 1,000-cow dairy.
Erica Leubner said, "Most people do not realize that dairy farming is our main profession and that the pumpkin business was a side business that grew. Everyone asks, 'What do you do with all of the pumpkins that do not sell?' This is my perfect opportunity to tell them about our dairy farm and how we feed pumpkins to our cows."
"We put the leftover pumpkins in silage trucks and bring them up to our bunk silo. They get scooped up with the payloader and put into the mixer-wagon with the rest of their mixed feed."
The American Dairy Association North East says cows are an ideal solution to the pumpkin problem because they are able to better digest foods that humans cannot, calling them the ‘ultimate recyclers.’ The nutritional benefits in pumpkins also help increase cows' milk production.
Rock Hill Orchard in Maryland produces a2 milk and ice cream, and also spoke out this year about the connection between pumpkins and cows. Owner John Fendrick told a local news station that every year the orchard grows about two acres of pumpkins for its patch and other tourist attractions.
After Halloween, Rock Hill lets its dairy cows loose on the pumpkin fields to graze on the leftovers. John said it’s good for his cows and the dairy, which is the only a2 dairy in Maryland.
As a good source of vitamin A, E, folate, fiber and protein, incorporating pumpkin into feed works for dairy cows as well as other farm animals like sheep, goats and horses.