WEST FARGO, N.D. — Cooper Anderson works in sales at Prairie Scale Systems Inc., and usually is standing in a smaller indoor booth at the annual Big Iron farm show at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds.

But at the 40th Big Iron, Prairie Scale was taking its products outdoors, where the first-day forecast on Tuesday, Sept. 15, was for partly-cloudy skies and highs in the upper 70s.

As the show opened for another milestone year, Anderson was optimistic about the interest, but anticipated a “little quieter than normal” show because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a big show,” Anderson said. “You’ve got the grain, you’ve got the row crop guys. But the cattle guys want to come here. They still want to see the tractors. They still want to see the stuff that pertains to them.”

It easier to transmit enthusiasm or understanding about equipment in the paint.

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There is a “difference between seeing the literature and actually seeing the product,” Anderson said. “We can show them the entire process of setting it up, tearing it down, simulating running some cattle across there.”

Weighing in

Vern O. Anderson started Prairie Scale Systems at Horace, N.D., in 1989. At age 67, Vern remains as chief executive officer while his son, Cooper, and Ryan Endringa are in sales. The company has 20 employees and covers a sales area including North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota, but pursues specialty projects nationwide.

Prairie Scale Systems sells, services and repairs a wide variety of weighing equipment. About a third of the business is in construction-related machines. But the majority of their work is any kind of agriculture-related weighing equipment for elevators, farms and seed operations.

And livestock.

“The livestock scales and service is a smaller portion of that, but we do enough of it that we try to serve the customer base in this area that is looking for it,” Cooper Anderson said.

Smaller livestock producers are often looking for lighter-capacity systems. The company features Avery Weigh-Tronix machines that weigh single animals or weigh calves for newborn weights.

Prairie Scale features Rice Lake weighing systems for larger-scale mobile animal livestock needs. Cattle buyers and sellers use them. They're useful to feedlot operators.

“If they have a feeder operation, they want to learn how much gain those cattle are putting on each day,” Anderson said.

Canada ties

The mobile wheeled units initially were made by NORAC Systems International of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In 2011, NORAC, a pioneer in sprayer technology, sold their weight-related products, (including livestock scales)to Rice Lake Weighing Systems of Rice Lake, Wis. Rice Lake made some improvements to electronics and panels, changed the branding and the color. Prairie Scale Systems has been dealing in the portable scales for about eight years.

Rice Lake features two of the large-scale models.

The smaller of the two is single-axle system 13 feet by 8 feet wide, with a 15,000 pound weighing capacity. A larger, tandem axle scale can handle 20,000 pounds — 18 feet long by 8 feet wide. The smaller machine itself weighs 3,500 pounds and the larger is 4,800 pounds. Both are pulled easily are pulled with a half-ton pickup — sized to “go down the road,” as they say.

The smaller and larger models cost about $26,000 and $30,000, respectively.

The company figures the economics of owning a scale in part by taking the number of animals to be sold, times the cost of taking animals to a sale barn, and the likely “shrink” in taking them there, which can range from 3% to 7%.

“I think with the markets the way they are right now, and the COVID, everybody is a little more cautious on making a purchase like this,” Anderson acknowledged. Such a scale admittedly is not a “necessity,” like a tractor, but can save the producer money.

Anderson estimates there are about 50 machines already in the field in North Dakota and Minnesota — perhaps 100 in South Dakota. The Andersons say customers tell them their scales have paid for themselves within a couple of years. That depends on markets and how many cattle the customer is running across the scale.

Certified scales

One of the key selling features is that both units meet all of the state requirements as far as being legal for trade. “You can buy and sell cattle across these scales,” Anderson said. To do that, the scale has to be certified by the state agency for that purpose. “We will take care of that for the customer,” he said.

Most people who own the scales are buying or selling feeder cattle.

“They’ll buy these scales — drag them out to the pasture or feedlot where they’re at,” he said. “They’ll weigh them, load them up in their trailer and take them where they need to go. There is a lot of cow-calf operations that are starting to look at these — not only to buy and sell, but they can track how much weight the cattle are putting on.”

Animal capacity depends on what’s being weighed. “If you were to look at an 800-pound feeder on the small, single-axle unit, you should be able to get eight to 10 critters on there,” Anderson said. The larger, tandem axle scales handle up to about 14 animals at a time.

“Once people see the product, they can really see a need for it,” Anderson enthused, smiling, and adding that many would see it for the first time at the 40th Big Iron.