Farming and feeding, Diversified farming, feeding operation provides opportunities for Miller family
Worland – Although it can be a challenge working with family members on a day-to-day basis, Jim Miller wouldn’t have it any other way. Miller, along with his brothers Hugh, Andrew, Pete and Daniel his son Joe and nephew Channer work together in their diversified farming and livestock feeding enterprise.
“I grew up in the operation,” Miller explains of his start in the business. “I farmed with my dad and four brothers. As one of us would get out of school, we would take on more farm ground and get a little bigger.”
“Now my son and one of my nephews have also joined the business,” he continues. “I also have a couple other nephews in middle school who are starting to help.”
Miller says farming was all he ever wanted to do, and the moment he got out of school, he jumped right in and started farming with his dad.
“I like it that we are a family operation, and we all seem to get along and work well together,” he says of the family business.
Diversifying an operation
The operation consists of a custom cattle and lamb feeding operation during the winter months and 1,600 acres of farm ground, where they raise corn, sugarbeets, malt barley and hay.
“We spend most of the winter feeding several hundred head of calves and about 10,000 lambs,” Miller says.
They also utilize crop residue, grazing the lambs on beet tops.
The family puts up 400 acres of alfalfa each year. The malt barley is harvested at the end of July. Then, the pens are cleaned, and the manure is spread on the barley fields.
“We start chopping corn Labor Day weekend. We harvest beets in October and do our fall field work before the calves and lambs come in October,” he says.
“We just recently vaccinated 1,800 lambs for over-eating, and we’ll be shearing lambs pretty soon,” he explains. “We shear 1,000 head at a time and keep them in a shed to allow them to get their lanolin back, so they don’t get cold.”
The family feeds lambs for ranchers from all across the state and some of their own.
“We usually ship the lambs out by June and the calves by May. We just background those,” he says.
They are able to utilize some of their own harvested crops to feed the animals in their feedlot.
“We harvest the corn as silage or hard corn to feed to the calves and lambs,” he says.
Farming and irrigation
Once the ground thaws, they plant malt barley, then corn and sugarbeets.
“We typically start irrigating between April 10 and April 15 when the water comes into the canal. We irrigate with sprinklers and gated pipe,” he says.
Irrigation is one important part of the operation the family has focused on improving.
“If we didn’t have irrigation, we couldn’t grow anything here in the Worland area,” Miller says. “We started with dirt ditches, then upgraded to cement ditches and gated pipe. Then, we moved to center pivot sprinklers.”
“Now, of the 1,600 acres we farm, we only have 50 acres that is still irrigated with cement ditch. The rest is either gated pipe or sprinklers,” he says.
As the family operation has grown, Miller said the tractors and equipment have, too.
“As our operation has grown, we have to buy bigger equipment and tractors to get over it all and be efficient,” he says.
Another improvement that has made a significant difference in their operation is the availability of Roundup Ready corn and sugarbeets.
“We don’t have to cultivate anymore. We just spray those fields with Roundup to keep the weeds down. We don’t have to hire labor to pull the weeds,” he says.
Making it work
Keeping up with the economics of the operation has been a challenge, Miller admits.
“We have five families living here. It can be difficult at times to keep enough work and profit in the operation to keep us all here doing what we like to do,” he comments.
“This year was particularly tough because sugar is at a 30-year low. We also had a terrible hailstorm, so we were only able to harvest about two-thirds of our barley. We cut and baled about 200 acres for hay because there was nothing left of it. The corn and beets grew back, although they yielded less than they would have,” he explains.
Fortunately, this diversified operation has options, and the family chose to feed more livestock than they normally would to make up for the smaller harvest.
“We used to have a cow/calf operation, but we sold those because we didn’t have enough pasture for them. It is easier for us to feed livestock in pens,” Miller explains.
Miller says he encourages people wanting to get into the ranching or farming business to develop a good business plan outlining what they want to do.
“I also wouldn’t be afraid to seek advice from people I know and trust and who are successful,” he adds.
On their own operation, Miller predicts they will continue to expand to accommodate new generations of the family who also want to farm and ranch.
“We don’t have any hired help. We do everything ourselves,” he says. “The seven of us work really well together.”