When the Dodge County Sheriff's Department was called to the scene of an unusual spill last week, the officers couldn't have known that they'd uncovered a strange and delicious mystery.
Last Tuesday, the department investigated County Highway S, in Juneau, Wisconsin, because "hundreds of thousands" of tiny red objects were covering the pavement. After a closer inspection (and possibly a taste test), the officers realized that the road was blanketed with a layer of strawberry Skittles.
Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt posted two pictures of the sugary accident on Facebook, joking that it would be hard to "taste the rainbow," as only one flavor had been spilled. "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," he later added. "In the end these Skittles are actually for the Birds!" [sic]
And that's where the mystery starts. Yes, those Skittles had been discarded because, due to a power outage at the Illinois plant that produced them, they weren't stamped with that distinctive S on their candy shells. But Mars spokesperson Denise Young told the Associated Press that they were supposed to be destroyed. She had no idea why they ended up in a cardboard box on the back of a truck more than 150 miles away, or how an as-yet-unidentified cattle farmer managed to get them shipped to his farm.
Weirdly, the idea of feeding Skittles to cows isn't the aspect that has been questioned. A Mars corporate environmental manager told the AP that, yes, the candy giant sometimes sells its unused products to a company that turns them into animal feed, but it never deals directly with individual farmers. (And the Yorkville, Illinois plant that produced this S-less batch of Skittles isn't one of the factories that turns its irregulars into animal feed anyway).
According to a 2012 report from Live Science, some farmers started feeding candy to their cows after a prolonged drought sent corn prices through that proverbial roof. Although the idea of eating candy for every meal sounds both amazing and terrible—for humans and cows alike—scientists have shrugged it off as perfectly acceptable. "I think it's a viable [diet]," John Waller, a professor of animal nutrition at the University of Tennessee, told the website. "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."
Other animal nutritionists agree, saying that as long as the animals are getting the right mix of nutrients, it doesn't always matter whether they're getting corn calories or candy calories. And cows are such resilient little ruminants, they can digest foods—like Skittles, for example—that other livestock can't.
According to 2012 reports from Reuters and Mother Jones, there have been numerous documented cases of farmers feeding both beef and dairy cattle a variety of sweets, including "salvage" chocolate, cookies, dried cranberries, Froot Loops, gummy worms, hard candy, hot chocolate mix, sprinkles, marshmallows, and orange peels. Even top-shelf Wagyu beef could come from cows who eat Cadbury's for every meal.
The idea of cows eating like sugar-starved trick-or-treaters isn't new, but this Skittles accident seems to have spilled the secret again. Literally.
MUNCHIES has reached out to Mars for further comment on the incident but has not yet received a response.