Jim Jenkins had a problem. Right there underfoot.

Actually, it was under the feet of 4,000 yearlings that were tromping a lot of dried distillers grains (DDGs) into the ground as they jostled for position after the feed wagon went by.

Jenkins’ problem? “We needed some way to save our DDGs, get it into the animal yet be able to move it around” as they rotated pastures, he says. “In a conversation with my brother, we came upon the idea of trying to find some conveyor belt.”

The idea was to use the conveyor belt as a platform to keep the DDGs off the ground. “University of Nebraska research shows there’s probably 30-40% waste if you just dump the DDGs on the ground and let those cattle try to pick it up, especially the sandy ground up in the Sandhills,” Jenkins says.

Of course, there are always feed bunks. Jenkins leases two ranches in the Nebraska Sandhills and runs roughly 2,000 yearlings on each place. He rotates pastures frequently, moving the cattle between winter pasture and cornstalks. Feed bunks are costly, he says, not to mention the physical labor of moving the bulky, heavy bunks every time cattle change location.

How about used conveyor belts? They’re tough, he reasoned. Plus, they’re portable and cheaper than feed bunks.

But you can’t go to the local used conveyor belt store and buy it. “I had a hard time finding it,” he says. Eventually, he found some at a power plant, but the supply was limited and not what he was looking for.

Then his nutritionist saw an ad, and putting two and two together came up with a lot more than four.

Solution looking for a problem

Enter Damon Carson, owner and sparkplug at repurposedMATERIALS in Denver, CO. “I started the company with no grand vision in September 2010,” he says, after selling his traditional trash hauling business in Vail. The catalyst was a friend in the construction business who asked Carson if he could find some old billboard vinyls to use as drop cloths.

He found some, bought them and started putting out feelers on where else the old billboard vinyls could be used. He quickly found his biggest market was ranchers and farmers, who used the vinyls as tarps to cover hay.

Then, he found some conveyor belting and put it out to the same audience. Immediately, ag people found multiple uses.

“People use it to floor their stock trailers, make windbreaks, liners for squeeze chutes. Horse guys use it to line their round pens to keep the sand in,” he says. And the vision began to take shape.

“Farmers and ranchers are some of the smartest, most creative people when it comes to a problem and trying to figure out how to solve it,” Carson says. And that resourcefulness in finding repurposed uses for things has been around for generations.

“But farmers and ranchers and Exxon oil aren’t sitting at the same table,” Carson says. “All we’re doing is bringing more and more, new and different, byproducts from industry to this already resourceful mindset that farmers and ranchers have.”

But even Carson was surprised when Jenkins called, looking for conveyor belting. The idea of using it as a feedbunk was something Carson hadn’t thought of. But that, he says, is the beauty of what he does.

“We don’t always have to figure out what to do with it,” he says. “We just put it out there. Potential users find us and we listen to what their problem is.”

For example, Carson was talking to a guy in Missouri who was looking for something to keep the raccoons out of his silage pits. Carson had some used roofing membrane, a rubber material about 45 ml. thick. “So, in place of the tires, the farmer used that old roofing rubber and it served a twofold purpose.” It was ballast and it provided a second envelope to protect the silage. It also deterred coons.

“Within about two weeks of that, I had three or four guys call, asking about conveyor belting. I asked them what they wanted to do with it. They said they wanted to cover their silage pits to keep the deer and coons out. Son of a gun. One creative ag guy had an idea, and a byproduct like the roofing rubber from a flat roof can get a second life.”