Although unique, the calving hot box Rod Peppel describes in his runner-up entry represents just one of a long list of inventions, innovations and improvements he has designed in his years working on ranches. Several of his ideas have found their way into Drovers' Profit Tips section.

Mr. Peppel, employed as a cattle manager for Ducksmith Farms, Wellston, Okla., says he is always looking for ways to improve the equipment he uses around the ranch, or to build something better, stronger or less expensive than what is commercially available. His wife, Lori, is an active partner in all aspects of ranch work, including helping Mr. Peppel with his inventive designs. Feeling restless on New Year's Eve, the couple celebrated the year 2000 by building their award-winning calving box in the middle of the night. Mr. Peppel says he felt a need for something that would do a better job of raising the body temperatures of newborn calves. The ranch had an insulated room in the barn with heat lamps for warming calves, but he found that the height of the heat lamps limited their effectiveness. Placing them closer risked scorching the calves. The hot box provides plenty of warmth without any risk of injury and, he says, heats calves more quickly as they breath the warm air.

In addition to the hot-box, his Profit Tip for a home-made brush guard claimed fourth place in this year's contest. The idea came from a sense of need and an unwillingness to pay hundreds of dollars for a mass-produced brush guard for his pickup. Built on a rainy day from scrap metal, the device cost about $30 in materials. "It might not be pretty," he says, "but it's built to last." The guard bolts to the same mounts as the bumper, allowing for easy removal without affecting the truck's resale value.

Built to last is a common theme in Mr. Peppel's designs. He says he intentionally overbuilds his home-made equipment and tries to improve on commercially available products by making them stronger and more durable.

Mr. Peppel says he is particularly proud of some of his other inventions, such as his "cake counter" for the feeder box mounted on his pickup. The device emits audible clicks to help him reduce waste by measuring and distributing the optimum amount of supplement.

He also has designed a sturdy, efficient hay-bale unroller and has built five of the machines for about $500 each. He says it unrolls hay into a narrow windrow that reduces waste. Cattle line up head to head, like at a feedbunk, and eat the hay rather than trampling it into the ground. As an alternative use, he sometimes bales seeded fescue, then unrolls the bales over bare spots in pastures for re-seeding.

"I just live and breath cattle ranching 24 hours a day," Mr. Peppel says, "so I'm always looking for ways to make things work better."