For Bernard Beer, a rancher in northwestern South Dakota, the mantra of waste not want not means a lot when you’re talking about feed, the biggest expense for most cow-calf operations.

Mr. Beer noticed problems with some of the protein cubes he purchased. If they weren’t formed right or had different ingredients, the cubes fell apart easier, creating waste. And that’s a significant problem when you feed supplement on the ground.

“When you feed the cubes on the ground, those fines become part of the soil and it’s wasted,” he points out. “If you get a lot of snow and put the cubes on the snow, the cows tend to pick up a lot of those chips and stuff from the cubes. Right now we don’t have any snow, so when you feed it, those fines are gone.”

To capture that loss, he built a screen for his protein bin. As the trap door to the bin is opened, cubes run over the screen before dropping into the feeder on his pickup. The screen consists of a series of ½-inch rod spaced 3⁄8 inch apart. A removable canvas bag is attached to the bottom to collect the fines. The screen didn’t cost much since he used scrap iron from his shop.

Although the fines from a typical 20-ton load of protein cubes run 2 percent, Mr. Beer says that adds up when you consider he feeds 50 tons of protein supplement each winter  —  which adds up to a full ton. Sometimes that average runs higher.

“One year, when they put the powdered milk in the feed, I probably had 10 percent worth of waste in there,” he says. “If I didn’t have that screen, I would have made them come back and get it.” Instead, he was able to collect those fines to feed.

Since there are no feedbunks in the pastures, Mr. Beer says he feeds the collected fines to some calves or replacement heifers that are penned up and have access to a feedbunk.

Mr. Beer runs a 10,000-acre cow-calf and yearling operation. He runs about 300 to 325 cows and 135 head of yearlings in addition to some bulls and horses. In the winter, Mr. Beer pastures his cows on winter range and uses the protein cubes as supplement. He runs the yearlings through the summer on grass, and then sells them as feeders in the fall.

Replacement heifers have become a growing part of his operation. He participates in a heifer buy-back program from his bull supplier Express Ranches in Yukon, Okla. “They’ve been buying my heifer calves back and they sell them in their bull sales,” he says. But he also keeps heifers for his own replacement program.