ELLENSBURG, Washington — The very concept sounds a lot like it came from a couple of guys kicking around new ideas over a cold beer.

Iron Horse Brewery is providing spent grain to PNW Beef cattle. The high-protein grain mixed in with hay chaff, formulated by professional nutritionists, is creating healthier, heavier cattle for market.

Brewer’s spent grain is a byproduct of the brewing process, Iron Horse Brewery managing partner Greg Parker said. Beer begins with a mash of barley, sometimes other grains and hot water, which after an hour or so of enzymatic activity, converts the grain’s starch into sugar then drained and rinsed to extract the sugar.

Sugar is the starting place for fermentation, Parker explained. Left behind are the starchy endosperm, residual protein and whatever residual sugars that don’t rinse away. The protein and fiber-rich leftovers are excellent feed for cows.

“I’m not exactly sure how it all came about. Somebody bumped into somebody in a small town and we came up with the idea,” Parker said. “Kyler (Beard) called and said he had the herd size that could handle that could handle our production, and it all worked out.”

Iron Horse Brewery has been providing spent grain to Kyler Beard’s PNW Beef operation for three now. The brewery provides around 600,000 pounds of spent grain over the course of the year.

PNW Beef runs about 700 yearlings on grass, plus an additional 300 pairs of cows and calves. It is committed to providing beef eaters with USDA-certified beef that is high-end, sustainable and, most importantly, delicious beef, Beard said. He believes strongly in sustainability, and his work is to reduce the impact on the environment by up-cycling local spent grain and other by-products.

“The feedlots are where I kinda where I got my start. A lot of feedlots are based around cheap feed, whatever it is,” Beard said. “That was the one commodity around here I could get my hands on to make our herd healthier and heavier.

“I actually started a trucking company through someone else to guarantee the haul from Iron Horse. He picks it up two, sometimes three, days a week. I run it through a vertical mixer box (that) looks like a big processor. I have a nutritionist that mixes the brewer’s grain by-product with what’s called bakery waste. We mix it all together, and it becomes a super sweet ration.”

The brewers’ grain is high in protein and very digestible, Beard said. One thing it has is a lot of moisture that will help chop the hay up and make it sweeter. It’s kind of sticky, he said.

Their cattle are fed high-quality mineral and vitamin supplements that help maintain a herd average body condition throughout the year in keeping with PNW beef standards.

“My ranch is 7 miles from the Iron Horse Brewery, so it’s kinda neat to be able to tell this story about using a local by-product and helping each other out,” Beard said. “By doing this, it produces more nutritious beef, and the flavor of the beef is like no other beef you’ve ever had.

“The biggest thing is taking something they need to get rid of and cycling it into something useful in raising bigger, better cattle with more pounds on them. It’s a big deal.”

The process is beneficial to both man and beast. Actually, the beef customers in and around the Kittitas Valley can enjoy a great steak and get to wash it down with a great beer. It’s a win-win.