Millers receive Century Award from American Angus Association
Tuesday, December 18, 2012 7:23 AM
If you're going to keep a cattle business viable for more than 100 years, your primary concern has to be herd longevity.
Mat, Margaret and Larry Miller at Miller's Viewlawn Angus farm, on the Minnesota/Iowa border near Canton.
(Bluff Country Reader photo by Lissa Blake)
And for Larry and Margaret Miller, keeping their foundation herd of registered Black Angus going is priority number one.
"We're not trying to follow the fads. And we're not interested in what's hot and what's not," said Larry Miller, who farms on the Minnesota/Iowa border, just south of Canton, with his wife, Margaret, and son, Chris.
Larry and Margaret, along with sons, Chris, Mat and Andy, and their families, traveled to Louisville, Ky., last month to receive the American Angus Association's Century Award for 100 years of continuous herd production.
"There's other outfits that started before us, but haven't been continuous," said Larry.
The award was offered last year for the first time.
The Miller legacy
In 1892, Larry's great-grandfather, Roy Miller, established the Viewlawn Angus herd, when he convinced his father to bring home a purebred Angus bull to their farm in northern Iowa.
Although the actual farm goes back to Larry's great-great-great-grandfather, who bought the land from his wife's family in 1866, the herd wasn't officially registered until 1903.
"In 1903, Roy bought six cows and that's when he registered the herd," said Larry.
Larry and Margaret were thrilled recently, when his cousins discovered great-grandpa Roy's old calf book he used to record information about the cattle in the early 1900s. Each cow in his herd had its own page, chronicling its statistics in beautiful, cursive handwriting.
"Margaret has been able to take that and use the registration numbers to print out their pedigrees. We knew some of our cattle traced back to those original six cows he bought, but we didn't know exactly how because we didn't have all this other information. It's the most amazing thing," said Larry.
A family tradition
Larry, who grew up about a quarter mile from where he lives today, married Margaret (Snell), who grew up about a mile to the south, in 1977.
There was never any question about what they would do for a living.
"I've never worked off the farm," said Larry, who has been an active member of a number of agricultural associations in both Minnesota and Iowa for most of his adult life.
"We normally have 22 to 24 board members (in the Winneshiek Cattlemen's Association) and I'm the only one who has never had income from off the farm," said Larry.
The Millers raised three sons, Chris, Mat and Andy, and have tried to pass along their love of farming to all three of them.
Chris is a partner in the farm, and Mat and Andy have other careers. Mat is the superintendent of buildings and grounds for the Austin School District and Andy works for Iowa Corn Beef in Harmony.
"Chris is in partnership with us, but Mat and Andy both own cattle in the herd yet and both of them still help out on big days when we are weaning calves or vaccinating," said Larry.
"Chris will take over the farm for us, but the other two know any time they want to come back to the farm there is a place for them," said Margaret.
"Our grandson, Carter, is only 6 and he's the first sixth-generation Angus breeder in the American Angus Association," said Margaret.
In addition to keeping between 500 and 700 cattle on the farm, the Millers also raise some sheep and hogs.
"We started a lot of young people working with sheep. It doesn't take a lot of facilities, and if a kid gets knocked down, he or she can grab that sheep and keep working with it," said Larry.
"Kids learn responsibility and how to take care of an animal with something of a size they can handle. We started all of our kids on sheep," said Larry.
Margaret chuckled as she thought of a recent scene in the barnyard with 6-year-old Carter.
"We were out working with the ewes and the baby lambs. This ewe was stomping and you could tell it was getting angry. Carter just braced himself and didn't back down," she said.
And while the Millers love passing along their love of raising livestock to their own family, they are also very willing to help others.
"We've always been active in helping out the 4-H and FFA in Fillmore County and we are the coordinators of the 4-H sheep show at the Minnesota State Fair," said Larry, adding the farm has also hosted many youth livestock shows throughout the years.
The Millers own six building sites, encompassing around 1,000 acres.
They try to maintain 240 cows for calving each year, keeping about 50 of the heifers to breed back. They have 500 acres of pasture and also rent some land to raise their own hay, corn and oats.
"There's not a purchased animal on this farm. Every animal you see here was born and raised on this farm," said Larry.
The Millers currently have 13 herd bulls, but occasionally will AI (artificially inseminate) for variety.
"Once in a while we try to inject a little new blood into the herd, but the breeding we've got here is just as good as anything we could buy," he said.
The Millers keep half of their heifers and a few select bulls.
"Our main form of advertising is to send out a letter to all of our past customers, which number around 725," said Larry.
"When they get that letter, they know we're ready to start selling bulls," said Larry, adding many of their animals are purchased sight unseen, by repeat customers.
"A lot of my customers don't even come to the farm. They give me a little description of their program and I pick out the bull I think is going to work for them," he continued. "You have to consider their conditions, labor situation and how they market their calves. There are guys selling feeder calves or guys finishing their calves. There isn't one best bull on the lot. A lot of our customers have jobs off the farm, so if they're going to be gone, that bull needs to throw an easy calf. Everybody needs something a little bit different."
Larry added that's one of the reasons he likes to personally deliver most of his bulls.
"That way I get to know the guys and their herds. If I'm hauling the bull myself to a new setting, I usually take a buddy with so they have company in the trailer," said Larry.
"I won't sell it as a bull unless it has been fertility tested and ultrasounded," he said.
"When Larry sells a bull, it's pasture ready," said Margaret.
"We have a lot of repeat customers who have been buying from us for two and three generations. Our oldest customer's family bought their first animal from the Millers in 1906," he said.
When selecting which cattle to keep, Larry said disposition is his number one requirement.
"If a cow has the wrong attitude at calving time we get rid of it. And we weed out the bull calves that aren't quiet. We pride this herd on being docile. We have to. We have people who come to look at calves with little kids and we have a lot of older customers," said Larry.
Margaret said the top third of the herd is halter broke before they are sold, courtesy of son, Chris, and hired man, John Brink, who has worked for the Millers for more than 30 years.
"Our cattle break really easy," said Margaret.
Larry said gentling the cattle when they're young is an absolute must, as far as he is concerned.
"Think about if there's an older guy who needs to catch a bull ... Not too long ago, I got a call from a guy - him and his dad and grandpa have been buying bulls from us forever. His bull was 5 years old and it was lame. He hadn't had a halter on him since I hauled him there. I went over there and he didn't have a chute or any way to catch him. The guy was frantic. I walked in the pen, put a halter on him and put him in a stanchion. He hadn't seen a halter in years," said Larry.
"I guess it's like riding a bicycle. They never really forget. Animals are smart," he said.
"I remember once when the boys weren't very old, there was this bull just leaning on the barn door and he got it open and came out into the yard. I just grabbed a halter and walked him back in. They don't know what power they could have if they wanted to use it. You just have to respect them all."
Off the farm
While the Millers stay extremely busy on the farm, they also try to give back to the community, participating in many area organizations and associations.
"We're active in Angus organizations in both Minnesota and Iowa. Iowa considers us Iowa and Minnesota considers us Minnesota. I've been on the Winneshiek County Cattlemens' Board for 35 years. Chris is active in Fillmore County and so were my parents (Robert and Elaine)," said Larry.
"Chris was a Minnesota delegate to the annual meeting in Louisville and he is also the vice president of the Iowa Angus Association. If we're going to be part of something, we're going to be active in it," said Larry.
As for the future of their operation, the Millers are extremely optimistic.
"There is nothing in the world we want more than to keep this farm going," said Margaret.
"We keep telling people this is our FIRST 100-year celebration," concluded Larry.