A relatively simple modification to a relatively large, tractor-drawn implement becomes the winner of Drovers’ fourth annual Profit Tips Contest. Jack Delaney, Greentop, Mo., won the $500 grand prize for his rotary mower modified to deliver liquid weed and brush herbicide with one trip through the pasture.

Two runners-up in the contest received $250 each. John Maxcy, manager of Hall Feedlot, Bridgeport, Neb., and consulting veterinarian Phillip Kesterson, earned runner-up money with their modification of feedbunks that make it possible for light calves to eat out of conventional-sized bunks. And an uncle-nephew team, Darrell Hubl and Ryan Schroer, Lawrence, Neb., also received the $250 runner-up prize for their four-wheeler gate made out of a discarded round bale panel and old cattle panels.

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. Judges were also told tips should be practical and easy to understand. 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 $50 and is automatically entered in the annual contest for the $500 grand prize. Entries are now being accepted for the 2003 contest. To view previously published profit tips, including past winners, visit www.drovers.com and click on “profit tips.”

Mow and spray
Jack Delaney wins the $500 grand prize in Drovers’ Profit Tip Contest

By Jason Gerke

It was just an idea I had,” says Jack Delaney, “so I tried it and it seemed to work.” Not only did the idea work, it paid off big in the Drovers annual Producer Profit Tip Contest.

Mr. Delaney, a real-estate appraiser and cow-calf producer from Greentop, Mo., won $500 for his idea to apply weed spray via a homemade application system mounted on top of his 15-feet-wide field mower.

“We usually try and mow all of our pastures each year,” says Mr. Delaney. “We cut weeds and woody plants off but they just kept coming—clipping didn’t kill them. I just had this theory that if you could spray weed killer at the same time that you were clipping it would kill them.”

Mr. Delaney says he doesn’t have a lot of solid brush—just scattered sprouts that keep coming up.

“This mower kind of makes a blanket over everything as it’s cutting. When you drop stuff through the mower deck, it hits the blades that are going so fast that they create a curtain of wind. My theory was that spray would be distributed on top of the sprouts of whatever weeds I was cutting off.”

The manufacturer had already cut drain holes in the mower deck, so Mr. Delaney ran two, 1⁄2-inch thick hoses to those drain holes. From the holding tank mounted on a stand on top of the mower deck, he ran spray to both wings. “A 15-feet wide mower actually has three sets of blades, so if I make another one, I am going to drop it on all three blades.”

  The system also worked well in knocking out sprouting cedar trees, according to Mr. Delaney.

“I can just pull on top of one or a bunch, turn it on and let it flow,” explains Mr. Delaney.

“Somebody asked me how I calibrated it. I pull up on top of a bunch of sprouts. I count, one, two, three and figure that’s good. It’s just a guess, but it does a good job on them.

“I installed an electric, magnetic shut-off valve and it works well,” he adds. “When you flip the switch your battery current kicks a magnet on to where the valve opens up. And then when you shut off the switch, cutting the power, the valve shuts off again. If you didn’t need to spray, you can mow and never lose a drop.”

Most sprayers require a high-pressure pump, but because this system works entirely on gravity flow, a pump is not required.

“That’s the thing that I like about it. It’s simple and it won’t break you to put one on,” says Mr. Delaney. 

Mr. Delaney manages 430 acres of grass and hay supporting 125 cow-calf pairs in a partnership with his son Darrin Mihalovich. The majority of cows are Angus- cross females.

The cowherd calves in the summer months, and calves are sold in the spring for the simple reason, “you don’t have to dig them out of a snow bank or mud hole when they calve,” according to Mr. Delaney.

“We usually try and wean calves six weeks before we sell them,” says Mr. Delaney. “We usually sell one bunch in March—the big end of them—and we usually sell the remainder in April. We give them one round of shots before we wean them, and then when they are weaned they get another round.

Calf-friendly feeding
Feedlot adapts facilities for lightweight calves.
By John Maday

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. This year, necessity for many High Plains feedlots meant feeding lightweight, early-weaned calves.

Early last summer, it became apparent that drought was forcing producers to sell their calves months earlier than usual. John Maxcy, manager of Hall Feedlot, Bridgeport, Neb., and several other area cattle feeders met with consulting veterinarian Phillip Kesterson to discuss the challenges and opportunities involved in weaning and feeding lightweight calves. They planned their health and management strategies, and also discussed facilities, as most feedlots are designed for cattle weighing about 500 pounds.

Knowing that calves weighing 300 pounds or less would have difficulty eating from conventional feedbunks, they devised the modification described in this winning profit tip. Mr. Maxcy purchased the 12-gauge sheet metal from a local supplier for about $2 per linear foot. The material came in 4-foot by 10-foot sheets, and the supplier sheared each sheet in half lengthwise for no extra charge. Mr. Maxcy says he can easily handle the sheets alone, and modify 200 feet of bunk in about 15 minutes.

An added benefit of the metal sheets is that the steep, slick surface discourages calves from climbing into the bunk and out of the pen. The team was concerned from the beginning that feeding such small calves would mean dealing with frequent escapes and cattle wandering the feed alleys. Because of these concerns, they rejected some other ideas for making feed more accessible, such as mounding soil on the apron in front of the bunk.

The 5,000-head capacity feeding operation typically feeds about 80 percent company cattle, some from the Hall family’s own cow-calf operation and the remainder purchased through various sources.

The feedlot team has developed relationships with several ranchers and typically purchases preconditioned, source- and process-verified calves directly from these suppliers during the traditional fall weaning period. This year, they purchased most of their calves through sale barns, as large numbers became available early in the summer at attractive prices. “We weaned about 2,300 calves between July 7 and Aug. 10,” Mr. Maxcy says. Most of them weighed between 300 and 400 pounds, and some weighed as little as 160 pounds.

In addition to the bunk modifications, Mr. Maxcy used overhead sprinklers to wet down pen surfaces prior to the calves’ arrival to minimize dust and respiratory problems. To allow easy access to water, he adjusted the floats on pen waterers to keep them filled to the top.

The facility includes a modern, home-built processing facility designed for labor reduction, calm handling, and minimum stress, and the team had no problems processing the calves. With easy access to clean water and free-choice minerals and high-quality starter rations, the calves adjusted quickly, gained weight and had virtually no health problems.

The feedlot individually identifies all cattle, and uses a hanging-scale process chute to track individual animal performance and sort into uniform groups at several stages.

Dr. Kesterson and Mr. Maxcy say they have learned some valuable lessons they can apply during years with more normal moisture.

“We’re looking at what we can do with stocking density,” Dr. Kesterson says, adding that early weaning could allow the Hall family and other ranchers in the area to carry more cows on the same land, reducing costs per unit of production.

Making something old new again
Nebraska uncle and nephew turn discarded round bale panel into a four-wheeler gate.
By Kim Watson

Farmers and ranchers are known innovators—many times out of necessity. Too often the item needed isn’t available, or a project is too cost prohibitive without altering the plan or making material substitutions. So a creative mind and scrap material are often used to solve dilemmas.

That type of innovation is just how Darrell Hubl and his 12-year-old nephew, Ryan Schroer, solved the dilemma of opening and closing multiple gates many times during the calving season. Like many farms and ranches today, horses have been replaced with four wheelers to move around pastures and pens.

That’s the preferred mode of transportation at the Hubl place. But with 100 head of cows spread across up to six different paddocks, stopping to open a gate then close it, check cows, then open and close the gate again became time consuming. So Mr. Hubl and Ryan put their heads together to come up with a solution.

“Every time we wanted to check the cows and calves during calving season, we got tired of opening and closing gates,” says Mr. Hubl. “We usually have the cows in three different pens, then after they calve, we put the pair in a different pen. So we end up with six different pens that have cows and calves in them. That’s a lot of gates to open and close when you’re checking them four to five times a day.”

After some brain storming, Mr. Hubl and Ryan decided to construct a four wheeler gate using an extra panel from a round bale feeder and some old wire cattle panels. “The bale feeders we buy come in three sections, and they’re held together by pins. But sometimes the cows can ruin one or two of the sections, so you end up with a bale feeder you can’t use, but some panels are still in good shape,” says Mr. Hubl. “I thought that this would be a good use for those sections that are still usable.”

Ryan helped his uncle construct two of the gates. For added traction, they wired old metal cattle panels onto the curved round bale section. The cattle panels also act as a cattle guard, so cows won’t try to walk over the gate.

“Now we can drive through without stopping to open and close gates,” says Ryan. So far, there are four such gates on the place, and they help cut the time it takes to check cows during calving season giving Mr. Hubl and Ryan time to work on other projects and chores around the family farm.

“I still help my uncle feed, take care of the calves, make electric fence, combine, anything he needs help with,” says Ryan. He’s not sure if he’ll pursue a career in agriculture, but he enjoys working around the farm and being outdoors. Since he’s only in sixth grade, he has plenty of time to decide what his future career might be.

Ryan, along with his parents Burt and Judy, decided this type of innovation would make a good Profit Tip in Drovers, so they sent it in. As a result, this entry was a runner up in the Drovers Profit Tip contest.

Mr. Hubl and Ryan plan to split the $250 prize between them. Ryan plans to spend some of his portion to pursue his favorite activities, hunting and fishing. “Then I have to save the rest,” he says, and that’s always a wise strategy.