Cold calves? High school projects turns into business plan for Sanborn Central students
FORESTBURG — Two Sanborn Central High School students are working to improve a cold-weather problem for cattle ranchers, including their own families.
Alex Wormstadt and Austin Schmit recently won a statewide competition in Pierre with their prototype of a mobile calf-warming box. The duo received $1,500 through the South Dakota Bankers Foundation 2018 Business Plan Competition after presenting their plan and project in February.
"As the presentation went along, we could tell the judges were intrigued," Wormstadt said. "So, it turned into a conversation with them."
"The judges ate it up when we were presenting it. We could tell they liked it," Schmit said, smiling. "We thought we had a pretty good shot."
Sanborn Central boasted five other entries this year, said economics teacher Corey Flatten. Over the last four years, the school has placed students within the top six, but this is the first year they've had students take home the top prize. The students began working on their projects in the economics class during the first semester.
"It is a remarkable achievement for the boys," Flatten said. "To be able to take that idea, develop a business plan, realistic financial projections, and create a prototype is a testament to their ingenuity and overall passion for their product."
The boys, both sons of cattle ranchers, said they wanted to do something practical to benefit the local area. In tossing ideas around, they realized there isn't a calf-warming box on the market that ranchers can use in the field.
"The problem was how to get a wet calf from the field to the farm without it getting cold," Wormstadt said.
And so, the idea of the Double A Calf Box began. The box will fit in the rear of a UTV side-by-side, and could also be used for sheep, goats, other livestock and hunting dogs.
They built a half-size model out of 20-gauge steel and plywood, with a grated floor. The heater, which is made from two hair dryer heads, sits in a compartment below the grate and is powered through a cigarette lighter. The calf lays on the grate and the hatch door, with ventilation, closes to warm and dry the calf.
Usually when a calf is born in cold weather, cattle ranchers have to carry the animal in blankets back to their barn to a calf-warmer. With this mobile box, ranchers can get the calves back out in the field faster.
"Our motto has been, 'If you save one to two calves, the warmer kind of pays for itself," Wormstadt said.
Wormstadt's father helped with the project by lending the use of his computerized plasma cutter to not only cut the metal, but also map out the blueprint for the box.
To prepare for the project, the boys created a business plan with projected numbers and sales, described how the box works, and discussed how they handled the partnership. After their presentation passed the initial round, they began planning out and building the box for the final round in the competition, which took them about 24 hours total to complete.
The judges aren't the only ones who have been impressed with the boys' project. Several area cattle ranchers have shown interest, Schmit said.
The pair is still recovering from the shock of winning but are both seriously considering using their winnings to further develop the Double A Calf Box. They plan to have a full-size version ready to show at DakotaFest and the South Dakota State Fair.
"We have to shed some weight off the box," Schmit said.
"We'd use aluminum instead of 20-gauge steel. And we'd use a material that's easier to wipe down," Wormstadt said, referring to the plywood interior.
Right now, the boys estimate their product would cost $800, but they want to make it even more affordable.
"I believe that Austin and Alex started the project as an assignment, but over time it snowballed into a valid business plan," Flatten said, adding he hopes they turn the project into a business.
The young entrepreneurs have a lot of work left, but also a bunch of support from their families, friends, and school.
"We'll have to see where the summer takes us," Wormstadt said.