From brew to moo: Chicago brewers partner with school for sustainable cattle feeding

A Chicago South Side craft brewery has hit on an idea that’s helping the environment, while also teaching some high school students about sustainability. You might call it the barley-beer-beef-burger circle of life.

Horse Thief Hollow brewing in Beverly makes a lot of tasty beer. In fact, their Pilsner recently won a national award. And to make a lot of beer you need to use a lot of grain.

But what do you do with all that grain after it’s been used to make beer? Five years ago, Horse Thief Hollow Founder Neil Byers hit on an idea.

"Historically we would just dispose of the spent grains," Byers explained. "But it happens to be a high-quality source of protein and micronutrients, and it’s really great cattle feed."

So every week, Byers drives 300 pounds of spent grains a couple miles away to the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in Mount Greenwood. There, seniors Ava McCarthy and Ashley Diaz feed it to the black Angus cattle that live at the school’s farm.

"They love it. They eat it up really quickly and they always know when we’re going to feed it," McCarthy said as she filled tubs with the wet, sticky grains. "(The cows) come right up to us and get all excited."


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Then when the cattle at the high school get to about 1,200 pounds they’re sent downstate to a meat processing facility, which then sends the meat to the brewery to be made into tasty burgers for customers. That’s right. The beef cattle that ate the brewery’s barley become burgers to be served at the brewery.

This year will be the first year that all of our beef will be produced at the ag school," said Byers. "So we’re actually producing the most local, sustainable, carbon-neutral beef in all of Illinois."

All of it washed down with a tasty beer. And it’s working out so well that Byers will soon be supplying the school with a dozen head of cattle after starting with just four.


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"I think it’s a great idea for the environment," said McCarthy. "Instead of throwing the grain to waste, the cattle get to use it. So it’s an environmental cycle in agriculture."

And it gives these city kids a new experience.

"I really enjoy the fact that, even though you live in the city, you get a chance to work with cattle, which you might not have," said Diaz.

Barley, beer, beef, and burgers are all going green on the South Side.