Creativity and ingenuity can both be used to describe winners of Drovers/CattleNetwork’s 2012 Profit Tips Contest. In past years, some of the simplest ideas were judged the best, and that trend holds true again this year. The tip submitted by Mike Jones, Mount Airy, N.C., was chosen by a panel of four judges as this year’s grand-prize winner, earning Jones $500 from Drovers/CattleNetwork. Jones’ winning entry was a storage platform that keeps electric wire and posts organized.

Two runners-up in the contest received $250 each. James Hofer, Mitchell, S.D., converted a salvaged water tank into a portable shelter for newborn calves. John Allan, DVM, Hermosa, S.D., submitted his siphon method that connects multiple water tanks.

Judges were asked to evaluate all Profit Tips Contest entries for several criteria. The guidelines suggest that tips can relate to saving money, increasing income, improving cattle performance, reducing labor, reducing stress on animals or workers, saving time or other valuable beef business tips. Information provided should allow readers to apply the tip in their own operations.

Each profit tip sent in with a photo and published by Drovers/CattleNetwork earns $75 and is automatically entered in the annual contest. Tips that are sent via e-mail with a digital photo earn $100.

Entries are now being accepted for the 2013 contest. Entries can be mailed or sent via e-mail to Entries must include a photo and a phone number for the entrant.

2012 profit tips contest judges

Best producer innovations - 2012Eric Grant is the director of public relations and communications for the American Angus Association in St. Joseph, Mo. He oversees the organization’s national advertising campaigns and produces two popular television programs, “The Angus Report” and “I Am Angus.” Prior to joining Angus, he was a writer and photographer based in Colorado.


Best producer innovations - 2012Geni Wren is the editor and associate publisher of Bovine Veterinarian. A pre-vet student at Iowa State University, Wren changed course and received a B.S. in zoology, then a B.A. in journalism/public relations. She worked for Pioneer Hi-Bred International, the American National CattleWomen in Denver and for the Meyocks Benkstein agricultural public relations firm.


Best producer innovations - 2012Todd Inglee and his family operate Ralston Valley Beef, based in Arvada, Colo. The company runs cattle on nearby leased properties and sells beef directly to consumers through local marketing channels. Inglee formerly held positions with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, NCBA, eMerge Interactive and Colorado Serum, an animal-health company.


Best producer innovations - 2012John Kinchen ranches with his wife Tana near Lusk, in eastern Wyoming. The family formerly was in the seedstock business, selling Red Angus bulls, but recently has shifted to commercial production with an emphasis on marketing Red Angus replacement heifers and commercial feeder steers.


Cows complement conservation

Year-round grazing is the goal at Beaver Creek Farm.

Best producer innovations - 2012North-central North Carolina is ideal cow country, and Mike and Jean Jones have spent the past 37 years building a cow herd and fine-tuning a grazing program that provides tasty beef and complements the environment.

Jones submitted several profit tips during 2012, but it was his storage platform for keeping electric wire and posts organized that captured the highest total score from the four judges in Drovers/CattleNetwork’s annual contest.

The Joneses purchased what they call Beaver Creek Farm in 1975. Mike works in the construction industry, and Jean is a registered nurse, but once they moved to their farm they immediately purchased a few cows. Over the years they have added more land and a few more cows, and Jones devotes much of his time to managing the land and the cows and marketing grass-fed beef to local customers.

Mount Airy, N.C., was the home of Andy Griffith, and the town was the inspiration for the fictional television town of Mayberry. The characters on that television program were proud of their town and their own, and that same sentiment comes through from Mike and Jean Jones and their passion for their cattle operation.

“Conservation is most important to us,” Jones says. “We have more than 2 miles of streams and they are all excluded from the pastures. The cattle drink from 20 permanent waterers we installed, plus two temporary units we have on rented land.” Jones credits the NRCS, North Carolina State University and the Cooperative Extension system with helping establish his grazing operation.

Cattle are not allowed into the streams in order to prevent pollution and to help establish wooded buffers that encourage wildlife habitat. Jones says prescribed burns will be conducted early next year to improve small-animal habitat. He also describes his operation as “predator friendly,” and he believes that encouraging small-game habitat keeps predators such as coyotes occupied so they don’t bother calves or barnyard animals such as chickens.

The fundamental component of the Beaver Creek operation, however, is rotational or management-intensive grazing. “We move cows almost every day,” Jones says. “Rotational grazing helps improve soil fertility by evenly distributing manure and urine. We also have fewer fl y and parasite problems with this program.” The farm contains a mixture of cool- and warm-season grasses that provide year-round grazing.

Jones prefers Angus cattle, and all of the calves are retained on the farm until they are 18 to 24 months old, when they are harvested and sold as grass-fed beef. He prefers moderate-sized cows, emphasizing that larger-framed cattle take longer to finish on grass, and the bigger cows are harder keepers.

Mike and Jean were recognized in 2010 as the recipients of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, Hugh Hammond Bennett Chapter, Conservation Steward Award. Jones says conservation of the land and environment is important and that he hopes someday Beaver Creek Farm will remain a successful operation for his grandchildren.

Best producer innovations - 2012First Place: Fencing organizer
Management-intensive grazing practices usually require moving electric fences regularly. That means keeping a supply of replacement posts and wire at the ready. Mike Jones says storing pigtail posts can quickly become a “tangled up mess.” He solved the problem by designing a storage platform that keeps supplies easily accessible. The unit consists of oak fence boards bolted onto three, 30-inch 4x4s. The racks that hold the posts and wire in place are formed out of 3/8-inch rebar. Jones says the platform holds up to 200 posts and 10 wire reels. “We use electrical cord reels which are not UV stable and become brittle in sunlight,” he says. “But you can buy six or seven of those for the price of one polywire reel, and they are easier to handle.” 


Practical innovations

Implementation of ideas makes chores easier on diversified ranch.

Best producer innovations - 2012Daily chores on a farm or ranch often provide an incentive to create little things that make life easier for people or more comfortable for cattle. South Dakota rancher James Hofer and his brother Philip are creative and enjoy developing ideas they can use in their operation.

Both brothers have submitted multiple profit tips to the Drovers/CattleNetwork Profit Tips contest over the past few years, but James’ submission of a salvaged water tank converted into a portable calf shelter earned runner-up recognition from our panel of four judges for 2012.

“That’s very exciting,” Hofer says. “When I fix something or create something that is useful on our ranch I like to share it with others through the Drovers/CattleNetwork Profit Tips contest.”

The Hofers operate a diversified farming operation near Mitchell, S.D., with an annual inventory of about 200 cows. Their cow herd is described as commercial Angus, and they utilize both artificial insemination and natural mating with registered Angus bulls. They save all of their own replacement heifers.

“We calve in January,” Hofer says. “We sell about half of our calves at a local auction market in December and the other half in January, so they are yearlings weighing about 800 pounds when they are marketed.”

In addition to beef cows, the Hofer ranch also includes a dairy, hogs, 1,500 acres of corn, 600 acres of soybeans and 700 acres of hay and pasture.

In the November issue, Philip Hofer’s profit tip of a wheel added to the bottom of a long gate provided an example of how the brother’s creativity can make chores easier and prevent equipment damage. The wheel at the end of the gate relieves the stress on the post and the gate from the weight and constant use.

“We like to repair things ourselves,” Hofer says. “We have a shop that gives us the ability to develop our own solutions to problems, and we find that type of work rewarding.” The Hofers appreciate the little things that make daily chores easier while developing an environment that is less stressful for the cattle.

Second Place: Portable calf hut
Best producer innovations - 2012Rancher James Hofer converted a salvaged water tank into a portable shelter for newborn calves. He cut one hole in the tank big enough to allow calves to enter and several holes in the floor 5 inches in diameter to allow for waste drainage. He adds fresh straw bedding regularly when in use. Hofer says the hut is “a cozy place for up to seven 100-pound calves.” He uses a tractor-mounted bale carrier to move the hut.


Working smarter, not harder

South Dakota rancher strives to make life easier for his cattle and himself.

Best producer innovations - 2012As the sole operator of his family’s ranch in western South Dakota, John Allan, DVM, continuously looks for ways to save time and labor. He says he’s picked up several labor-saving ideas from the Drovers/CattleNetwork Profit Tips section, which prompted him to submit his tip.

As a semi-retired veterinarian, he also places a lot of importance on easy access to good-quality water for his cattle, knowing it improves forage intake, cattle health and performance. His dual interests in efficiency and cattle well-being led to the invention of the prizewinning tip.

Allan’s ranch sits at the edge of the Black Hills of western South Dakota, within sight of Mount Rushmore. He grew up in the area, where his family has resided since two of his great-grandfathers arrived prospecting for gold. He went off to school, practiced veterinary medicine for 25 years and now has moved back to the family ranch.

The spring-calving herd consists of 100 commercial Angus cows, which he breeds to registered Angus bulls. He uses artificial insemination on heifers, selecting AI sires for calving ease. The herd begins a 60-day calving season in mid- February, and Allan weans his calves around mid-October. He typically sells the calves at weaning, either directly to repeat buyers or through local auction markets. At times he has backgrounded heifers for later sale in January.

Allan continuously assesses the condition of his cows and records their body-condition scores. He focuses on good nutrition for gestating cows through the winter and works to bring the cows to BCS 5 or 6 by calving time to help ensure they breed back in a timely manner. He weighs each calf and maintains individual records on every cow and her progeny, which he uses in culling decisions.

Allan has considered crossbreeding, but the Angus calves sell well and typically command premium prices. He retains some heifer calves for replacements but mostly purchases bred Angus heifers from local sales, looking for females that are moderately sized, suited to his environment and with good maternal traits.

Allan studies EPDs on bulls, which he purchases locally, and emphasizes weaning and yearling weights while keeping birthweights manageable. Since he purchases most of his replacement heifers, he focuses on growth more than maternal traits in selecting bulls.

Allan preconditions the calves with a full round of vaccines six weeks prior to weaning. He also emphasizes fly control, believing it complements his efforts to provide a low-stress environment for cattle. Those efforts include learning and using low-stress handling methods, maintaining facilities for easy movement, and processing and culling cows with poor dispositions.

Those efforts have paid off, he says, as buyers increasingly recognize the role of behavior and temperament in calves’ health and performance through finishing and ultimately their quality and value at slaughter. This year, his buyer talked with Allan’s bull supplier and visited the ranch to observe calf behavior before purchasing and shipping them to Iowa for finishing.

Third Place: Siphon increases water capacity
Best producer innovations - 2012Connecting multiple water tanks with a siphon can greatly increase the capacity of available drinking water for your cattle. Rancher John Allan used the principle of a siphon to connect water tanks to maintain an equal water level in all tanks. The water fl ow to the tanks is regulated with a fl oat valve, and the siphon drains water to secondary tanks without cutting holes in the tanks to connect a pipe between them at the bottom. Allan used 2-inch PVC pipe cemented together in an upside-down “U” configuration, with the ability to cap off the open ends. The siphon pipe is primed by submerging under water to remove the air and capping off both ends while under water. The pipe can then be placed in the operating position, one end in each tank with both ends below the highest water level, and remove the caps.