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History of DeKalb Feeds, Inc.

In 1948, the commercial cattle feeding industry was just becoming established. Marketing and selling commercial feed was a challenge as most feeders used straight ingredients. The old "Trinity Mixture" of one third each of salt, bone meal, and calcium was the standard. Corn and cob meals were basic grain sources, along with corn silage mixed with hay. The main protein source was usually oil meals with a pound of molasses feed and mineral added. These would be dumped on top of the load of feed, then mixed as well as they could be before the mixture was fed to the cattle.

Herman Cortelyou, an innovative feed distributor from Mendota, IL realized that by combining certain by-products to increase the nutritional value of the feed, he could offer customers a better product at a lower price, and decided to start a business that would do just that.

After much consideration, Herman decided to locate his company in DeKalb, IL. Several factors went into this decision. DeKalb was on a railroad siding, which was important because most of the ingredient material was moved by rail at the time. The Chicago Stockyards was the major midwest livestock market at the time and a lot of cattle were trucked in from Western Illinois and Eastern Iowa to the market. As DeKalb had access to a major east-west highway, trucks would be able to pick up feed on return trips from the Chicago stockyards. Herman also had a beginning client base, based on his past customers. Once DeKalb was chosen, Herman purchased the old railroad warehouse, added a mill to the building, and named the business the DeKalb Molasses Feed Company.

The first feed produced by DeKalb Feeds was the 20% Cattle Lass pellets, which had a 50% molasses equivalent content. This process was achieved by adding pure sugar to the feed. It was sold in 100 lb. burlap sacks. So much sugar was used that several times the Revenue People stopped by as they thought DeKalb Feeds was running a still! Herman would go out and sell feed during the day and then go back to the mill and help manufacture the feed at night. Many deliveries were also made out of the trunk and back seat of his car.

Grass silage was a new idea in the late 1940’s and DeKalb developed a silo pellet with a 200-pound addition to the ton of silage. This provided energy to support proper fermentation, and the product proved to be a major seller. Trucks would line up for blocks to pick up the product!

The third product that helped establish DeKalb as a leader in cattle feed was the 30% Ruffage Buster, which was used to feed with silage. It was one of the first feeds to use urea, which resulted in a real price advantage. It really helped get DeKalb Feeds started as a leader in cattle feeds.

In 1952 a second DeKalb Molasses Feed Company plant was established in Rock Falls to help growth in western Illinois and eastern Iowa. R.M. (Robbie) Robinson, a commodities trader from Chicago, joined the company as a partner and oversaw the operations at this location.

At this time, distribution of the manufactured product was a large part of the cost charged to the customer. Since the majority of feed sales were a bagged product, emphasis was placed on customers picking up their own feed. Producers realized the savings by purchasing the product in bulk. Since a major goal of DeKalb Feeds has been, and will continue to be, that of providing the most solid nutrition and livestock management techniques for the producer dollar, a decision was made to acquire a combination bulk/bagged delivery unit. Today, the total of delivery units numbers 13. Even to this day, DeKalb Feeds does not own semi-trailers to haul purchased ingredients to the production unit. Instead, contract carriers such as Meador Trucking, Inc. of Chadwick, IL, which has been the company's major carrier for 28 years, are utilized to fulfill major ingredient needs. Other contract carriers provide delivery on specialty and lower volume ingredients.

In 1957 the DeKalb Molasses Feed Company plant in DeKalb, IL, was destroyed by fire in the most costly blaze the city of DeKalb had seen in more than three years. Only outer walls of corrugated sheet steel remained standing after the $150,000 blaze. DeKalb firemen saved the firm’s two warehouses and office building near the plant. All production was moved to DeKalb Feed’s Rock Falls, IL, plant for about 8 months.

By 1958, business had grown enough to warrant the purchase of a third mill, located in Brookston, IN. Mel Burkdahl came into the business as a junior partner at that location as well as the manager of the plant.

DeKalb Feeds experienced many changes during the 1960's, beginning with the retirement of Herman Cortelyou in 1962. R.M. (Robbie) Robinson assumed the President's post, with Mel Jurgens joining as a junior partner. In 1965, DeKalb Feeds was purchased by W.R. Grace and Company. Mel Jurgens left to open a commodities business in DeKalb, and the Brookston plant was sold to Mel Barkdahl and other investors. On the feed front during the ‘60’s, the concept of blended supplements, which included varied protein sources along with minerals and vitamins, was being developed for cattle. Percentage rations were introduced to the market in the belief that the rations would result in a five percent advantage if used in conjunction with the existing system. This technology was later proven instrumental in the development of computer and batch mix programs, which allowed for better record keeping and feeding programs. It was also during this period that the first DeKalb Feeds, Inc. Customer Cattle Meetings were held and record keeping programs were initiated.

In 1972, DeKalb Feeds was bought back from W.R. Grace by a group of stockholders which included Robbie Robinson, Jim Dorathy, Ben Heimann, Ralph Griesbach, Chuck Carroll, Bob Simmons, Jr., Roland Penney, Chuck Nelson, Jim Kieschnick, Bob Bennison, and Larry Ginther. The group purchased the plants in Rock Falls and DeKalb and elected Robinson President of DeKalb Feeds, Inc. It was at this point that the company began utilizing computer technology, beginning with linear programming of formulations. The next step was the implementation of complete batch ration mixes - a first in the region. Accounting and financial reporting programs were also started, as was a system for using hand-held programmable calculators.

All of the technological advances have enabled DeKalb Feeds, Inc., to maintain a system of documented quality control and, more significantly, a 30 year performance cattle database in which many customers participate. The annual publication with this information is the DeKalb Feeds cattle book, a regional guide used by producers, veterinarians, consultants, bankers, and others. This cattle book is one of the largest record bases on feedlot cattle in the Midwest and proves that Midwestern feeders can do a good job of producing beef while remaining competitive in other areas.

Feed had been marketed in Iowa almost from the beginning of the business, but actual production began in 1982 with the purchase of Big Bill's Feed Mill and additional grain storage property in Onslow, IA.

1984 saw the retirement of Robbie Robinson. Ben Heimann as President and Chuck Nelson as Chairman of the Board assumed new leadership. A decision was also made to perpetuate the business from within by forming an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan), which allowed all employees ownership in the company.

The 1990's brought a decline in livestock numbers around the metropolitan Chicago area, and it became evident that in order for DeKalb Feeds to survive, it needed to expand their “westward” operations. Almost simultaneously, the opportunity to purchase Yoder Feeds in Frytown, IA arose. Founded in 1934 by Jonas Yoder and his son, Les, Yoder Feeds grew over the years through innovation in both product and services. In 1951, Yoder became the first feed company in Iowa to deliver bulk feeds to its customers. The mill presently located in Frytown was built in 1969, and was the first pressurized mill in the United States. Feed was distributed through a direct-to-the-farm sales organization, and five company owned distribution centers were located in Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. Yoder Feeds, Inc. had other ventures which included Yoder Hatchery (purchased eggs from area producers in the 1950's), Yoder Feed-O-Matic (manufactured and sold stationary electric mills throughout eastern Iowa in the 1960's and 70's), Country Lane Foods (formed in 1971 as an in-line egg production and processing facility which marketed eggs and food items to retail grocery stores throughout a 5 state area), and Calmar Foods (an egg-breaking operation which was added in 1987). By the company's 50th anniversary, Yoder Feeds had diversified into three major divisions: livestock feed, grain, and food.

The key to the acquisition was Yoder's strong position in the eastern Iowa swine market and the focus on product quality and customer service a business philosophy which complimented that of DeKalb Feeds, Inc. The purchase of the livestock feed division in Frytown, finalized in September 1996, doubled the size of the company and significantly expanded the market area!

One of the priorities of DeKalb Feeds over the past 50 years has been that all DeKalb Feed’s mills are well-maintained and quality control samples are analyzed and reviewed in all locations. The laboratory has been a large part of DeKalb Feeds service over the years. Customer on farm feedstuffs are analyzed and used to formulate rations. The laboratory was set up in the DeKalb, IL plant and later moved to Rock Falls. Cornbelt Feed Testing, a commercial laboratory, was formed in 1985 for lab service to anyone not purchasing feed. As the lab facilities were larger at the Frytown, IA plant, the lab was moved there in May of 1997.

The 1990’s saw the initiation of controlled intake patterns for cattle known as program feeding - another new industry standard. This program has helped to establish improved performance in cattle and generated much interest in the industry. The expanded use of by-products such as gluten feed, mix 27 and mix 30 were also introduced.

In April of 1997 the Onslow plant moved from its downtown location to the annex north of Onslow. With increased production in Iowa, the decision was made to close the mill in DeKalb and manufacturing was transferred to Rock Falls in July 1997. Pearcy Grain, in Clare, IL, was selected to warehouse feed in that area - which was moved one year later to Arndt Automotive in Malta, IL, in May 1998.

It is important to note that DeKalb Feeds has long relied on outside experts to keep the company on the leading edge of nutritional knowledge. In the 1950’s, DeKalb developed a “Life Cycle” hog feeding program from concepts initiated by Dr. Damon Catron at Iowa State University. The main products used in the program were a high sugar 17% protein Baby Pig Starter and a 38% Swine Balancer supplement, which was a main line product for many years. Dr. Wise Burroughs, also at Iowa State University, provided the “protein” research for the cattle industry. In the 1950’s and 60’s, Dr. Mac Beeson and Dr. T.W. Perry at Purdue in the Beef Nutrition department were leading the way in cattle feeding. More recently, Dr. Richard Goodrich from the University of Minnesota and Dr. Fred Owens of Oklahoma State University have shared their expertise in the beef area, while Dr. Tim Staley of Iowa State has shared his knowledge in swine research. DeKalb Feeds was quick to change formulas to take advantage of the newest research and apply them at the producer level. DeKalb Feeds was also the pioneer in the introduction of vitamin A to cattle feed and the antibiotic Aureomycin to both cattle and swine products.

With the addition of an in house veterinarian, DeKalb Feeds has added yet another new dimension in technical support and service to its customers.

Although marketing and research have played important roles in the company's growth and success, “Customer Service” has always been the main priority. DeKalb Feeds has always maintained an aggressive continuing education program for the field staff, who are capable of solving the nutritional challenges of their customers, as well as updating them on the most current market trends and products. Drivers strive to deliver products on time, and management and administrative staff oversee daily operations.

All efforts are geared toward professional, conscientious, and courteous service in an effort to provide you, the customer, with every ounce of value for your purchase, for truly:

"Your Success is Our Concern"


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