This story has been updated to show comment from Mars.
Last week, hundreds of thousands of red Skittles were found scattered across the Dodge County Highway in Wisconsin. At the time, no one knew the reason. But thanks to a local police investigation, residents have learned the red candies were supposed to be food for cows.
“The Skittles were confirmed to have fallen off the back of a truck,” Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt reported on Facebook last week. “It is reported that the Skittles were intended to feed cattle, as they did not make the cut for packaging at the company. In the end, these Skittles are actually for the birds!”
Officers first came across the scene last Tuesday—when they noticed a rural highway about 60 miles west of Milkwaukee, Wis. was painted in a sea of red, thanks to a massive amount of strawberry-flavored Skittles. Though they were missing the candy’s white “S” on the hard shells, policemen knew they were Skittles based off the smell.
“There’s no little ‘S’ on them, but you can definitely smell, it’s a distinct Skittles smell,” Sheriff Dale Schmidt told local CNN affiliate WISN.
After further investigating, officers found that they candies were intended to be used as feed—a practice that actually goes back decades but became more popular after corn prices surged in 2012 and farmers sought a cheaper, alternative way to feed their livestock. According to CNN, the candy provides “cheap carbs” to the cattle.
“(It) is a very good way for producers to reduce feed cost, and to provide less expensive food for consumers,” said Ki Fanning, a livestock nutritionist with Great Plains Livestock Consulting, told CNNMoney at the time.
In fact, adding candy to cow feed is pretty common, John Waller, a professor of animal nutrition at the University of Tennessee, told LiveScience in 2012—a practice that works because cows are ruminant animals.
“Ruminant animals, which include goats, sheep, cattle and giraffes, take their name from the first of four compartments in their stomach, the rumen. In it, food is broken down into solids and liquids by robust microbes, after which the partially digested solids, now called the cud, are regurgitated and re-chewed,” he explained to LiveScience at the time.
So, even though feeding cows candy is nothing out of the ordinary, there was still something sticky in this particular case: Despite the fact Mars (MARS) (Skittles’ parent company) does sell unwanted candies to cattle farmers, the Yorkville, Ill., plant where these Skittles reportedly came from doesn’t sell any of its discarded candies for cattle feed, Linda Kurtz, a corporate environmental manager at Mars, first told the Associated Press.
“This was product that could not be finished due to a power outage at our factory,” A Mars spokesperson told Fortune in a statement. “It was intended for destruction. We are investigating what happened and we hope to know more soon.”