Creativity and ingenuity can both be used to describe winners of the Drovers' 2007 Profit Tips Contest. In past years, some of the simplest ideas were judged the best. However, this year’s grand prize winner, Richard Roth, Big Sandy, Mont., constructed a mobile calf warmer big enough to warm 10 calves at a time. The mobile calf warmer earned the highest total score from our panel of judges in the contest’s nine-year history. Roth’s grand prize award was $500 from Drovers.

Two runners-up in the contest received $250 each. Ole Bryn, Towner, N.D., earned runner-up money with a loader-mounted bale unroller. John Walter, Odessa, Wash., earned runner-up money with his T-post puller. Walter also received a runner-up prize in last year’s contest.

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 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 earns $75 and is automatically entered in the annual contest.

Entries are now being accepted for the 2008 contest. Entries can be mailed or sent via e-mail to Entries must include a photo.

To view previously published tips, including past winners, visit the Profit Tips section on

Mobile calf sauna

Keeping calves dry helps reduce sickness and death loss.

By Kim Watson

This year’s profit tip winner was a unanimous pick among the judges, mainly because it was a piece of equipment that was built to fill a specific need — to get several calves warm, dry and back to their mothers in a short amount of time. For Richard Roth, co-owner of IX Ranch near Big Sandy, Mont., there wasn’t a piece of equipment on the market four years ago to do that for the size of operation his family runs.

“When you’re calving out 2,100 mother cows, 450 3-year-olds and 500 2-year-olds in central Montana in March and April, keeping calves dry presents a challenge,” Roth says. Sometimes as many as 10 calves at a time needed to be dried off, and smaller calf warmers on the market just didn’t fit their needs. So Roth came up with a plan to build a mobile calf “sauna” to get larger groups of calves dried off in a short amount of time.

As with every good plan, the challenge then became implementation. That challenge fell in the hands of ranch manager Todd Amsbaugh, a 17-year veteran at the ranch, and as Roth describes, he is the “MacGyver” of ranch managers. “He’s able to take an idea and use his welding and construction skills to make it work,” Roth says.

An old boat trailer was used as the base for the warmer; then plywood was used to build an enclosure. The heat for the warmer is provided from propane burners, and a large fan then pushes the warm air in a circular fashion through the chamber. The calves come out dry in an hour and then are back with their mothers to start nursing.

To keep the calves straight, Roth says they use a permanent marker to put the cow’s ID number on surveyors’ tape, then cut it long enough to tie around the calf’s neck.

Ingenuity like that helps the ranch maintain healthy cattle. The IX Ranch’s main goal is to raise high-quality feeder cattle while maintaining natural resources on the ranch in the way Mother Nature intended. If you want more information on the ranch, visit their Web site at

Old traditions, modern production

Ole Bryn and his family raise cattle on land his grandparents homesteaded in 1886.

By John Maday

Back in 1886, Ole Bryn’s grandparents built a sod house on their homestead in northern North Dakota. And while Bryn says he doesn’t live in the sod house today, family traditions are alive and well on the ranch. Bryn, with help from his wife Amy, son Aaron and daughter-in-law Koreen, runs a cow-calf operation on land that includes the original homestead near Towner, N.D.

The Bryn family runs a herd of Angus cows which they breed to Angus-based black bulls. Bryn says his goals in genetic selection are to produce calves that wean at heavy weights and have a high value at sale time, and that also provide value to his customers in terms of feedyard performance and carcass merit. 

In selecting mates for his moderately sized Angus cows, Bryn says he looks for bulls that will provide birth weights around 90 pounds, good milk, 205-day weaning weights around 650 to 700 pounds, and good carcass yield and ribeye area.

They market preconditioned, black steer calves in October or early November. The family keeps the heifer calves until February, when they sort off the ones they will keep as replacements in the breeding herd and sell the rest as feeder calves.

Bryn says he has sold through various market channels over the years including local sale barns and video auctions. The family’s calves have built a reputation for quality and consistency, as in recent years he has sold the steer calves directly to a repeat customer  —  a feedyard buyer from Iowa who was happy with the calves that graded 65 percent Choice or better with good carcass yields in previous years.

Winters are cold and snowy in northern North Dakota, but Bryn says his Angus herd is well adapted to cold. The family moves the cows and remaining heifers to a pasture near home during the winter to allow easy monitoring and feed delivery. The pasture is bordered by trees for a windbreak, but he says the cows spend most of their time out in the open.

At calving time in early spring, Bryn says he moves the cows to a sandy pasture that is studded with poplar trees. Shelter from the trees, combined with the well-drained soil, provides an ideal calving environment, he says. First-calf heifers go to a separate pasture for close monitoring through calving.

The Bryns bale hay through the summer for winter feeding and use the tractor-mounted bale unroller described in the winning profit tip to deliver it to the cattle. The wheels he mounted to the bucket, Bryn says, came from an old stack frame, left from the days the family stored hay in stacks rather than bales.

Aaron does most of the feeding these days, Bryn says, and he really appreciates the convenience and easy operation of the home-made unroller. “You just drop the bale, cut the twine and push it with the bucket,” he says. “It didn’t cost much to make and it works great.”

T-post puller

Efficient and inexpensive tool makes moving posts easier.

By Greg Henderson

Fencing chores are time and labor intensive, so any tool that makes the job easier is welcomed by rancher John Walter. That’s why he’s invested some time developing tools such as the T-post puller that earned runner-up prize money in Drovers’ Profit Tips Contest. In fact, this is the second year in a row that Walter was recognized as a runner-up in the contest.

At Schoonover Farms, a diversified farming operation in central Washington, Walter uses this T-post puller when building or moving electric fence. Rotational grazing is utilized on three irrigated circles, and electric fences are the choice for cattle containment. “Electric fence is much easier to put up and maintain in that situation,” Walter says.

Last year, Walter’s entry that earned a runner-up prize was a T-post puller he created for use with a tractor. The tool is a flat piece of metal welded to a chain. The metal has a 2-inch by 1¾-inch hole cut into it for the T-post to slide into. The chain is hooked to the front-end loader on a tractor and the post is easily pulled.

This year’s entry is a manual T-post puller. “There are many times when a manual puller is handier,” Walter says. “If you just have a post or two to move, it’s easier with the manual tool than going to get the tractor, especially if you’re a mile or two from the tractor.”

Fencing is an important chore at Schoonover Farms. The family runs 240 commercial cows and calves and has over 2,000 acres in crops and pasture land. The cattle graze irrigated pastures where they run one head per acre, and pastures consist of cool season grasses such as orchard grass, fescue and ryegrass. They also raise Kentucky Bluegrass that they cut and bale to feed to cows during the winter.

The commercial cowherd is predominantly Angus, but Walter says they plan to use some Hereford bulls next year to gain more heterosis in their calves. All of the calves are preconditioned before marketing, and that includes vaccinations and a 50-day weaning program. Walter has found a good market for his calves from repeat buyers, which he attributes to good genetics and the preconditioning program that provides good performance and minimizes health problems for the next owners.