By Matt Reese
Along with being a potential new market for farms, the increasing number of microbreweries and microdistillers popping up around Ohio can also be a source for meeting feed needs in livestock operations.
The Watershed Distillery in Columbus, for example, has grown to be among the largest microdistilleries in Ohio after just starting three years ago. They currently use 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of grain a week that is mostly corn, but also includes wheat, rye and spelt. The spent grain has been a great source of feed for John Thiel who raises cattle near Mechanicsburg.
“Our cattle do great on it,” he said. “It is cost effective and they can digest it better than straight feed. The intake is so much better and it adds moisture to the dry diets. The spent grain actually raises the protein content from 9% in what we normally would have to 28% in our last batch. Only 30% to 40% of our total diet for the cattle is spent grain.”
Thiel has to go into Columbus for work anyway and picks up the spent grain right from the distillery, which did not have a good way of disposing the material prior to this arrangement.
“A friend of a friend got us into contact. Every week we get about 600 gallons of it and we haul it home in 300 gallon totes,” Thiel said. “Our 850 pound steers are getting 15 to 17 gallons a day, which comes out to about 1.8 pounds of feed per gallon.”
The cost-effective feed has allowed Thiel to expand the operation of Simmental-Angus cattle.
“I am running 20 head a year now. I had been doing five or six as a hobby and now it has actually grown into a business,” he said.
In exchange for the feed, Thiel makes sure to keep the freezers full for Watershed owners Dave Rigo and Greg Lehman and their families. The Distillery produces 40,000 bottles of gin, bourbon and vodka a year annually with plans for expanding significantly in the near future. They get their corn and wheat from Ohio (Belmont Mills) already and they are looking for sources of local rye and spelt as well.
“There are some niche opportunities out there for farmers to make a little extra money and then we have a better story to tell because we can point to a map and say, ‘This is where our spelt comes from,’” Lehman said. “And, if we are getting our products from Ohio, those farmers will tell their friends about us and they might buy it themselves. We like the idea of supporting local farmers, because they also support us.”