"Out-of-the-blue," as Kim Brackett tells it, during the ride home from church one November Sunday her son Levi asked, "When is Drovers going to call and tell us we won the Profit Tips Contest?"

The call came the very next day. Ruby, 10, and Levi Brackett, 8, share first place, and $500, in Drovers 2000 Profit Tips Contest with a color-coded labeling system for vaccine bottles and syringes. Their father Chet Brackett devised the system to ensure proper administration of vaccines at branding and throughout the year.

The labeling system uses colored tape to identify which syringe is used with a particular vaccine. Different colors are used with different vaccines or animal health products. One strip of tape identifies a subcutaneous injection while two strips label the injection as intramuscular.

The idea was a hit with contest judges, as two picked it first on their ballots, while another judge placed the color-coded labeling system third. Points from those three judges were enough to make the Brackett's entry a clear winner.

A ranching family

Chet Brackett's great-grandfather homesteaded in southern Idaho in 1886, and his grandfather was born in the area where the Bracketts now operate Summer Camp Ranch. As fourth-generation ranchers, Chet and Kim run over 1,000 commercial Angus cows in Owyhee County. They market their calves through order buyers and through Superior Livestock Auction's video sales.

Even with 3 full-time employees, everyone on the Summer Camp Ranch must pitch in to help work cattle at branding time. And vaccinations must be done quickly, yet accurately. That's when the color-coded labels help eliminate mistakes and confusion.

"The color codes help the adults as well as the children," Mr. Brackett says. "When you're in the midst of branding and working cattle and you grab an empty vaccine gun, it's difficult to make sure you refill it with the correct vaccine. Even if you refill out of the correct bottle, it's time consuming to stop and sort it out."

Although most producers clean their syringes after use, residue from the previous vaccine or medication can remain. The Bracketts maintain the color codes on their syringes throughout the year so they'll always use the same syringe for the same vaccine and avoid the potential of contamination from residue from a previous use.

"We use thousands of dollars of vaccine each year," Mr. Brackett says. "For us to have a problem with the administration of the product or with contamination from refilling from the wrong bottle is totally self-defeating."

Winning first place in Drovers Profit Tip Contest was exciting for Ruby and Levi. They attend a 1-room school with 16 other children in a ranching community 35 miles west of Rogerson, Idaho. When they shared the news about the award with their classmates they also showed copies of the magazine with details of the contest. Several of the other children have now taken the idea home to look for profit tips on their family ranches.