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Simple ideas on the farm to help save time and money

Some tips for fencing, feeding and processing cattle

A small plastic cooler and sink drains make a handy and safe holder for materials when vaccinating cattle.

I thought it might be interesting to share a few of the simple and hopefully good ideas that we have implemented on our place this year. Some are things I am sure folks are already doing, others might help someone or twig a new idea. I would encourage you to steal any of these that might be worthwhile and for sure feel free to share ideas back.

Vaccination cooler

We are pretty cautious with our health protocols and wanted to protect our vaccines without spending hundreds of dollars. The solution was a $23 plastic cooler at Canadian Tire. The cooler has to be a bit taller so that the syringes can fit into the box without harming the needles on the end. I drilled three holes in the top and fitted plastic sink drains that you can get from any plumbing shop. My plumber gave me these for free. To hold them in place I filled the hollow lid with expanding foam. You can see on the one picture that I still have to sand a little foam off the one tube. If needed you can put an ice pack in the summer or a warm pack in the winter to help maintain a constant temperature. The cooler is also easy to clean and helps keep your vaccines out of the sun. I use a separate cooler for transport and storage of our vaccines. Total cost was about $30.

Big board

Our veterinary/client relationship is quite good and one of the things we have done with our protocols has been to have our local decal shop create a metal sign listing our protocols and dosages. This provides a quick chute-side reference and is a good way to figure out dosages in a relative hurry. The blank part in the bottom right can be written on with a dry-erase marker to keep notes on any specific animals. (We also use a dry-erase board in the shop to record mileage/hours for maintenance, etc.)

A whiteboard imprinted with names of different vaccines and treatments, along with dosage rates and withdrawal times is a handy reference when processing cattle. photo: Sean McGrath

The board is easy to clean and is a very good tool. The only mistake is that I should have put our vet’s phone number on it. Even though his number is on my phone, it is useful for other folks in an emergency. It is also important to note that your veterinarian may have different protocols and you should exercise that vet/client relationship prior to printing your own board. Total cost $250.

Vaccine temperature control

One of the things we keep in our vaccine fridge is the outside sensor of an indoor/outdoor thermometer. These cost about $25 and will record the max. and min. temperature as well as the current temperature. With this simple device, it is easy to see if the inside of the vaccine fridge is the right temperature. We have had a fridge mysteriously quit and then restart almost a week later. Thanks to our cheap insurance policy we were able to throw out all of the vaccine in the fridge before it was used in calves with no effect. Total Cost $25.

Tag box

We don’t tag calves at birth here. We try to process every three weeks when we are calving and that way we can determine which calves are first, second or third cycle by their tag numbers. We use a different series of numbers for steers and heifers and tag the steers blue, the heifers white to speed up sorting in the fall. Purebreds are tagged with yellow tags at birth as we weigh each of these. Over the winter we are going to build a series of stacking boxes that are divided into 5×5 grids where we can store individual ear tags along with a cross-referenced CCIA tag. This way we can speed processing by simply grabbing a set of tags in a compartment for a calf and tagging without having to record anything. The cross-referencing can all be done ahead of time when we are loading the boxes. Hopefully, I can have my act together to have the boxes done by mid-May.

Cordless drill

We do a lot of winter grazing and have always pounded in our rebar posts with a small four-pound sledge. I must be getting old, but it always bothers my elbow, so this winter we have switched to a 1/2-inch masonry bit and a cordless drill. I already had the drill and bought the bit for another project but a good 24-inch masonry bit is roughly $30. One note is that you need to keep the drill batteries relatively warm to have a good lifespan. If you don’t have a heated shop, bring them indoors overnight rather than leaving them in the truck. The hammer drill feature is also quite good if it is really frozen out. Again, total cost $30.

A portable drill with masonry bit makes it easier to drill holes in frozen ground for portable fencing posts. photo: Sean McGrath

Twine barrel

Currently we use a three-point hitch unroller on our tractor for feeding but we also have a barrel that we use for collecting twine when we are setting up bale grazing or not using the unroller. This is made of a 45-gallon large plastic barrel. We cut the top out of the barrel and then drilled holes on either side of the barrel and mounted two large bolt-on style three-point hitch pins, one on either side. These are readily available at any parts store and will run between $15 and $30 a pair. This allows us to have twine storage right on the three-point hitch and keep the mess out of the tractor cab. Total cost $50

Hopefully one or two of these ideas might work for some of you, or as I mentioned before, feel free to send any of your own ideas, with the express knowledge that I will beg/borrow and steal any of the good ones for our place.

About the author


Sean McGrath is a rancher and consultant from Vermilion, Alta. He can be reached at [email protected] or (780) 853- 9673. For additional information visit



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