A look into the use of cake for ranches

A smattering of cake litters the ground awaiting consumption by Dyer Ranch cattle near Crawford, Nebraska. The cake, or range cubes, acts as a protein source in the absence of green grass. Photo by Austin Hook.
Austin Hook |

Ranchers often supplement cake through the winter as a protein source for their cattle. Not vanilla, chocolate or angel food, but rather, range cubes of cottonseed meal, sunflower meal or other sources.

A protein source is necessary for digestibility of available roughage, though cakes offer varying levels of protein and palatability.

“From a rancher’s standpoint, if they have native grass and grass hay and they graze in the winter, if possible, the only nutrient they are short is protein. So that’s where cake or range cubes come in,” said Karl Storjohann of Chadron, Neb., who owns an independent feed company called Feedpro.

“Cakes are made up of several protein sources, primarily cottonseed meal, distiller dried grains, sunflower meal or a combination thereof, and more.”

“Many will sometimes still feed cake, it’s easier to run out with a pickup.”

Storjohann prefers cottonseed meal, which comes from Texas and east.

“It makes a good pellet and works really well in a combination. The most popular in combination is distiller dried grains, which comes from ethanol plants. Distiller’s dried grains (ddg) has a good smell and is 23 percent protein. Cattle really like it.”

Some cakes have corn gluten feed. Of all the protein sources, Storjohann said he also likes wheat middlings, which are high in fiber.

“It’s the germ part of wheat seed and a highly digestible type of fiber and is 17 percent protein,” Storjohann said. “I’ve also used wheat middlings with cottonseed mill and distiller dried grains and several other kinds.”

Storjohann would generally steer his customers away from sunflower meal.

“I would get a lot of hulls that are not digestible, in some kinds,” he said. “It’s 40 percent protein without hulls. Generally it is 28 to 30 percent with hulls. Cattle don’t particularly care for it and can’t digest the hulls.”

He very seldom used canola meal, which is from North Dakota, as the main source of protein in range cubes, he said,

“It has really good protein, but in Nebraska or Wyoming, it’s getting a little far and freight is expensive,” he said. “It’s not feasible except in North Dakota, South Dakota or Montana.”

“Soybean meal makes a poor pellet and doesn’t stick together to make a hard enough cake,” Storjohann added. “Every rancher wants cake to be hard enough that it doesn’t crumble, but soft enough so cattle can eat it.”

Similarly, cottonseed cake without fat is really hard. A happy medium at about four percent fat in the cottonseed cake makes the perfect pellet, he said.

Storjohann is particular about the looks of his cake for ease of consumption.

“You want cake cubes to be slick on the side, which indicates it is hard enough, (and) fairly long — 1 and a half to 2 inches, seven-eighths inches in diameter,” he said. “Some feed mills make it three-quarter inches. It’s up to the feed mill to make a good pellet. When the dyes are worn out, they have problems making a good pellet.”

Being independent of any particular feed or cake manufacturers allowed Storjohann to specify how he wanted the product to be made, he said.

“I would generally include trace mineral and vitamin mix to provide needed nutrients, so the rancher didn’t have to worry about being short any nutrients, but I recommend feeding mineral on the side,” Storjohann said.

Rancher Mike Dyer, who owns and operates a ranch near Crawford, Neb., supplements cake from December through February or so. His includes vitamin A. Storjohann highly recommends a minimum of 40,000 units of vitamin A per pound of cake.

“It’s a little more than needed,” Storjohann said of his recommendation. “But it’s better to have plenty than be deficient. Vitamin A prevents night blindness and is a part of total function of the body of the cows. A shortage of vitamin A shows up in calves prone to scours. There are so many things involved with vitamin A, so make sure there’s plenty.”

“We feed a mineral source free-choice year round,” Dyer said. “We also add a vitamin A supplement. Most cake today comes with it as a package unless you designate you don’t want it.”

“The real needs within trace minerals are copper and zinc,” Storjohann said. “Cows require 1 percent phosphorus and 1/2 percent of calcium in the cake per feeding of two to three pounds of cake per day.”

He also said during winter, the most critical time for supplementing, a copper shortage can be easily detected in black cows.

“Angus cattle that turn out to be grey are deficient in copper. As soon as they get some, the color goes back to black right away. It’s amazing,” Storjohann said.

There are other sources for cattle to obtain protein, though cake is Storjohann’s preference.

“If a rancher raises a lot of alfalfa, they can substitute alfalfa for cake. Many will sometimes still feed cake, it’s easier to run out with a pickup.”

He said he prefers cake over other sources of protein due to lower costs.

“Lick tubs and molasses protein blocks are real expensive. Cake is expensive, too but convenience-type feeds have the convenience factor built into that price,” Dyer said. “In winter you’ve got to chop ice or check cows, so you might as well feed cake instead of something three times more expensive for the convenience.”

Feeding hay and supplementing with cake may not coincide.

“Many ranchers will wait to feed hay until ready to calve. This is the ideal time to feed the best alfalfa; their largest needs for protein is during the last trimester of pregnancy and right after they calve the needs get even higher,” he said.

Storjohann recommended supplementing with cake in November or December.

“If the winter turns really bad, get cake out there to get them some more energy,” he said. “Without protein, it’s hard to digest forage in standing grass. It helps build up rumen bacteria to digest forage.”

Ranchers don’t necessarily need to cake every day to get the same value, Storjohann said. “You can cake as low as twice a week. You just need to feed based on the cattle’s nutrient needs: a half to three-quarter pound of protein per day, one pound per day when calving. This requires feeding two pounds of cake to get a half pound of protein.” ❖