Winter feeding can be stressful for cattle producers, especially when hay prices are high. Corn stalks and pastures are the most economically feasible options, but they don't always provide all the nutrients cattle need.
Many producers feed some sort of protein supplement, such as range cubes to make up for the lack of protein on these lands. In the past, traditional range cubes have been the only option.
The main problem with these cubes is they are made with binders and fillers, to keep the cubes together. Even with these additives, the cubes can fall apart.
Feed companies have tried to create alternative cubes, using such feedstuffs as dried distillers grains (DDGs), which is a by-product of ethanol production. But the cubes would not stay together.
However, last year, Rayeman Elements devised a way to keep the cubes together. They used density to keep the cubes together, which allowed the cubes to be bagged and transported with very little loss.
Mike Thomas, the Director of Technology for Rayeman Elements, is the man behind the design. Prior to making the range cubes, Thomas spent 18 years in the extrusion industry using wood and plastics.
“Mike knew he could make these cubes without binders and fillers using different machines than the traditional cube makers. He figured out a way to control the density of the cube, which kept it from falling apart,” said Samantha Western, President of Rayeman Elements.
She continued, “What we learned was that there were two ways to make these cubes. The first was using fillers and binders, which kept the cube together, but it decreased the nutritional value. The other way was using 100 percent distillers grains, but they would fall apart by the time they got to the farmer. Either way it was done, the farmer had to buy and feed twice as much in order to get the nutrition to the cow.”
When Thomas looked at the problem, he realized he could keep the cubes together using a different piece of machinery and a different process.
“We didn't need binders. We were able to control the density of the cube, which keeps it together,” she said.
The cubes were then developed for Furst McNess, a feed company started in 1908 that is now headquartered out of Illinois. “We made that original truckload, and then the farmers tested it out and they loved it,” said Western.
She continued, “People have been feeding cubes to their cattle for 20 years, but it wasn't the most efficient way. With these cubes, you get the optimum nutrition with this grain in a very compact, efficient form, and it actually stays together.”
Using distillers grains as a protein supplement is not a new idea. However, the challenge of using it has left beef producers frustrated.
“Beef producers have been unhappy for years trying to supplement protein for cattle on forage. Many companies have tried to incorporate distiller's grains into their cubes, but they haven't been able to get a very high concentration without the cubes falling apart. We have developed a product here that takes a corn by-product, and make it a very viable product for the beef industry. We can take Nebraska grains and make them usable for Nebraska beef producers. It's a win-win for everyone,” said Dr. Mike Ward, Vice President of the Agri-Group for Furst McNess.
Thomas was able to solve the problem because he looked at it differently than everyone else. “A lot of people treated the DDGs like food products, and were putting them in food processors. Mike saw the DDGs as more like sawdust, and treated it as such,” said Western.
After the initial batch, Thomas and Western knew they had to find a bigger facility to produce their product. They settled on a building in Lexington, Neb., which was built to bring in businesses such as Rayeman Elements to help stimulate the local economy.
“We chose Lexington for several reasons. It is the center of the range cube market. It was also the only building we found that was big enough for what we thought we would need. The building is 20,000 square feet, and we use all of it,” said Western.
Around the same time the building was leased and the business moved, the Monroe shock absorber plant in Cozad was scaling back, and the new business provided employment for people who may not have had a job elsewhere.
“We were able to hire a lot of great people who already knew each other and worked well together,” said Western.
With a new building and 42 new employees, the business was able to amp up production. Rayeman Elements is now bringing in a truckload of DDGs per day, and shipping out a truckload of cubes a day. At their peak, the business will be looking at producing 10,000 pounds of cubes per hour.
The plant now runs 24 hours per day, 350 days per year with three shifts of workers. There are five lines running at once, and production is increased on nearly a daily basis.
The grain is brought in from ethanol plants within a 100-mile radius, with the majority coming in from Pioneer Trail Energy Corporation, located in Wood River, Neb. This is one of the largest ethanol facilities in the country.
The plant now runs a research and development line as well, where they are developing new methods for compressing other feedstuffs such as sorghum.
In addition to the cubes, the plant is now experimenting with tubs that have the DDGs compressed in them, so farmers can put out the tubs and not have to feed cubes every day.
The tubs weigh 200 pounds, and the density of the tub limits the intake of the supplement to roughly 2-pounds of product per day, which allows the cattle to meet their daily requirements.
The bulk of the cubes are sold in one ton totes, but the company is now expanding into making smaller bags for producers with smaller herds. They are now making 50-pound sacks that are easier for producer to handle.
It is the goal of Rayeman Elements to eventually sell their technology to the ethanol plants, so they can make their own range cubes at the ethanol facility.
“We wanted to find a way to help the ethanol industry, and give more stability to them,” Western said.
In order to keep the plants competitive, the company has decided to only sell the machinery to one plant in a particular area, so the area does not get flooded with cubes.
Western and Thomas are very particular about the people they partner with, and believe in having more than just a simple business relationship.
“We only deal with people that we build a personal relationship with. We want people who are honest and who are going to do what's best for their community,” said Western.
This business plan was set out not only to help the business, but to help the community and beef producers as well. The future of the Bova-Cube looks very bright.
“I see them taking over the range cube industry. Having a high quality, highly nutrition product is what I see becoming the standard of the industry,” said Ward.
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