Teen branches out from his family’s cattle business to raise sheep

Once upon a time in the West, according to cowboy lore and Hollywood legend, cattlemen and sheep herders didn’t mix, but fortunately for 17-year-old Derek Miller of rural Dallas County, Mo., times have changed.
Good thing since all of Derek’s family, including his parents, Arlen and Mary Ann, his three older brothers and three older sisters, are all cattle people. Derek, the youngest of the seven, helps with the family’s 400 acres, which include 100 acres of hay production and also supports 110 Angus cattle. They also do about 2,000 to 2,500 round bales of custom haying each year and Arlen Miller owns the Miller Store at the junction of Highways 64 and 73, near their family home just outside of Buffalo.
Derek, however, has launched his own agricultural adventure with Katahdin sheep.
“I have six right now,” he announced with a shy grin. “Three ewes and three rams. They are all registered Katahdins, which are hair sheep raised for meat and it also means no sheering. My rams right now are for sale and the ewes are bred. Two of the rams are younger from this spring and one is older. I’d like to get more sheep and build up to a decent-sized herd. Of course, that all depends on land availability as they grow.”
While the rest of his family is experienced in livestock production, Derek thinks the sheep might be a little more than they can handle.
“My family is all about cattle,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t think any of them would survive with sheep. They like their cows better. I like that the sheep are smaller and easier to handle.
“I first heard about (the Katahdins breed) from a friend and saw his and just liked what I saw. They are much more parasite resistant and are really good mothers. They’re very docile and not as jumpy as some of the other breeds. They can and will eat brush almost as good as goats and so you don’t have to worry about their diet as much as you do with some others. I’ve talked to another friend and neighbor, Randy Wehner, and he’s helped me a lot as he also has Katahdins. I’ve also learned from experience and there is a lot to learn as you get into something new.”
While he might be comfortable with his small flock, Derek is learning a great deal as time goes by.
“There are some real challenges. Last summer, my friend and I bought a ram on halves and we were running our sheep together,” he said. “We lost three in short order to a bobcat. He lost two of his and I lost one, so that set me back. After that I got two dogs to help protect the sheep, a Pyrenees-Anatolian Shepherd mix named Montana and another shepherd cross that was an Akabash but that one got sick and died. I still have Montana. This heat is really hard on her so right now she spends her days, sleeping in the shade of the barn or under a trailer but she spends her nights, running around, barking and keeping the sheep safe. I tried a pair of little donkeys before to protect the sheep but they didn’t work out. I think they probably found that bobcat to be pretty fierce.”
At age 17, Derek Miller is a busy young man with farm work of all kinds, both for his family and as he establishes his own agriculture endeavor.
“These sheep are really fun. I keep mine really tame and they like their heads rubbed and they nibble at your clothes,” he said. “Their lambs are the best part, though, just so sweet.”


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