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Grains for Good Lickin’

Morris, Minn. — A Minnesota ethanol company is making a new energy product, but it’s for cows, not cars.

Golden Lyk, a subsidiary of Diversified Energy Company (DENCO), is turning ethanol byproducts into high-energy protein lick-blocks for cattle. Golden Lyk Tubs are made from wet and dry corn distillers grains, solubles and minerals. The lick-blocks are a new use for wet distillers grain and a good example of how Minnesota ethanol companies are adding revenues with coproducts.

Distillers grain glut

The DENCO ethanol plant in Morris processes 7.5 million bushels of corn a year, producing 20 million gallons of ethanol and more than 80,000 tons of distillers grain.

Distillers grain is the corn fraction remaining after the starch has been converted to ethanol. About 30 percent protein, it is sold both wet and dry as livestock feed. Distillers grain has become an important income source for Minnesota’s ethanol plants. At DENCO, for example, feed sales represent about 15 percent of the company’s $29 million in annual revenues, says Controller Jim Highum.

But as Minnesota’s ethanol industry expands, Highum says, there will be a whole lot of distillers grain for sale. That’s likely to create a market glut, depressing the feed’s value. So “everybody is looking for another way to use these coproducts.”

Patented gold

Dry corn distillers grain has been used for years in livestock lick-blocks. DENCO General Manager Gerald Bachmeier, who also raises cattle, had used protein blocks on his North Dakota farm. It was his idea to make them from wet distillers grain.

Early last year, AURI helped DENCO assess the market potential of protein blocks, a $150 million industry in the Upper Midwest. Supported by a $145,000 USDA research grant, DENCO began experimenting with formulas and manufacturing methods. By late summer 2001, the company patented a process that turns “wet cake” and other ingredients into solid, 200-pound lick-blocks in recyclable plastic tubs.

The pale gold lick-blocks are a total cattle supplement, containing 12 percent plant protein plus a guaranteed analysis of fat, fiber and minerals, says Duane Rixe, DENCO feed sales manager. “You can get higher protein in competing products, but our tub is not just a protein supplement; it is a total supplement tub high in energy, vitamins and minerals.” Golden Lyk makes custom-blended tubs for special nutrition needs, too.

After testing Golden Lyk Tubs last fall on 16 Midwest farms and ranches, DENCO began manufacturing in January. The tubs are available at DENCO and are distributed by Vigortone, a livestock nutrition company based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Golden Lyk boosts the value of DENCO’s distillers grain about 20 percent, Highum says. He expects Golden Lyk to sell about 100,000 tubs this year. And the outlook for growth is good, he adds, as farmers look for cheaper and more convenient ways to deliver feed and supplements to pastured and grazed cows.

Half dozen new uses

DENCO’s venture is part of an industry-wide emphasis on getting more value from ethanol coproducts, says AURI’s Michael Sparby, project development director in Morris and Crookston. AURI is working with Minnesota ethanol producers on a half-dozen new uses for distillers grain, including fertilizer, special feeds and alternative fuels.

In addition, ethanol producers are paying more attention to the quality and consistency of their coproducts, says Scott Anderson, a cattle producer and feed dealer in Langford, S.D. “We move a lot of ethanol byproducts for feed,” says Anderson, who also sells Golden Lyk Tubs. “Morris has a very consistent feed coming out of the plant.”

Rixe agrees. In the past, he says, the ethanol industry “didn’t look at these byproducts as something valuable that has to be consistent and high quality. That’s changed.”


By E. M. Morrison

Al Schoenfeld is an animal nutrition expert and farmer who runs a 170-cow-calf operation in Deuel County, S.D. He’s one of 16 cattle producers across eight states who tested Golden Lyk Tubs last fall.

Schoenfeld fed Golden Lyk to 35 cows on grass pasture and 170 on grass hay. Both groups consumed 1 to 1-1/4 pounds of supplement per head per day, at a cost of about 22 cents a day, he says. “The tubs worked very well,” providing easily digestible protein and energy, says Schoenfeld, a consultant for Vigortone and a specialist in cow-calf nutrition.

Scott Anderson, a cattle producer and livestock feed dealer in Marshall County, S.D., had similar results with a group of 50 cows fed on hay. “They ate about a pound per head per day — exactly the predicted rate.”

But a comparison group of cows receiving high-quality mixed rations barely touched the tubs, Anderson says. He concluded, “if the cows need the supplement, they eat it. If not, they leave it alone.” That’s a contrast to sweeter, molasses-based lick-blocks, which cattle tend to over-consume, he says.

Schoenfeld fed his cows Golden Lyk Tubs again this spring during breeding, to provide extra energy. “If it’s a dry summer and we have reduced-quality grass, we’ll look at using them this summer, too.” He says the lick-blocks are more convenient to feed than supplemental corn and require less monitoring. “I was impressed with the product’s ability to withstand the weather. The tubs were rained on, snowed on. The cows just licked off the snow.”

The cost of feeding Golden Lyk Tubs averages 18 to 25 cents per head per day, says Duane Rixe of Golden Lyk. “That’s competitive with other methods of supplemental feeding,” Schoenfeld says.