Jim Milum says developing good heifers that deliver healthy calves is key

Though families of six generations in a region are uncommon, fewer still can trace their heritage back to the earliest settlers, often with name variations occurring through the centuries.

John and Humphrey Milum arrived in America from England in 1623 and worked as barrel makers. The first ancestor in Arkansas was Samuel James Milum who left Hickman County, Tenn., to settle in Franklin County, Ark., and later, in 1846, in what was then Carroll County.

The first Milum settler in what became Marion County, Ark., was James Bluford Milum in 1853, a crop farmer who raised cotton, corn and wheat.

Jim and his wife Charlotte now have 300 acres, 160 bought from Jim’s father Newt with an adjacent 120 coming from a purchase of his aunt’s place, plus another 20.

“My father was an important influence in my life with regards to buying and selling feeder steers and heifers,” Jim said. “He’s the one who convinced me to keep only docile animals. I was a young kid but I never forgot when he got broken ribs once from a cow with stub horns that broke out of the chute.”

Jim and Charlotte met during a high school basketball game while he was playing point guard on one side and she was a cheerleader for the other. They started dating during college at Arkansas Tech, where he received his bachelor’s degree in math, later graduating from Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in mechanical engineering.

He found a job in St. Louis as chief engineer for McDonald Douglas on the F-4 fighter aircraft, but after 13 years, the couple wanted to come back home so he accepted a position as chief engineer for Emerson Electric in Harrison and retired from there in 1996 to serve as a Arkansas State Representative for Boone County, Ark.

Following his father’s footsteps, Jim developed feeder cattle from 1975 to 2013 when he switched to commercial black Angus heifers.

Jim and Charlotte were selected the 1998 Stocker Producer of the Year by the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association.

“I was seeking a better profit margin and saw the solution as being the development of good quality black Angus heifers specifically bred to deliver a healthy fall calf within a 30-day period with no birthing issues,” Jim explained.

Wanting to ensure that the results of his new venture were verifiable rather than merely observable, Jim ran a formal three-year study from 2013 to 2016. The study was based on artificial insemination (AI) supported by two registered black Angus bulls for clean-up on two lots of 50 purchased heifers. Jim decided to use AI because that process allows for much more affordable genetic improvement than maintaining “a bunch of bulls,” not to mention the advantage of handpicking specific traits. Jim has published a detail report on this process.

The purchased heifers were as uniform in size, weight, confirmation, disposition and age as possible. Each had to pass the pelvic and reproductive tract examination and docility test. The 100-heifer herd size best fits Jim’s ranch size, pasture organization and facilities while reducing input cost per head partially due to procedures that required less chute work, time and labor. Procedures were carefully specified and recorded. Each year some heifers were retained and others were culled for a variety of reasons including disposition, pelvic size and a small reproductive tract. The three-year study resulted in a 95 percent pregnancy rate, with 65 percent rate on AI. Each year Jim would retain 20 heifers for calving to check birthing and weaning weight at six month. All were successful with a goal of 650 pounds.

Some 2- to 3-year-old bulls are sold by private treaty. These young bulls are ready to work and have only been used on heifers before the sale. Most heifers are also sold by private treaty on the Internet. Steer calves are sold at Joplin Regional Stockyards in Carthage, Mo..

Since the final study, Jim added some Red Angus heifers to increase calmness and low birth weight and is now introducing a registered Red Angus bull to his breeding program because he believes the breed is more docile and heat tolerant.

“I learned much from the three-year study and feel comfortable progressing as carefully but without as much formality, time and labor as before,” Jim said.

One interesting practice is retaining a specific momma cow as a leader. Jim maintains leaders can be picked out early on because they have an easy disposition and immediately follow a grain tractor which then motivates the rest. The process allows for easy gathering when the cattle need to be worked.

Through research and experimentation, Jim developed his own 14 percent protein grain mix and uses that with all of his cattle in addition to continuous free choice minerals and salt.

First calf heifers are fed daily while mommas and bulls are fed every other day from September to March to counterbalance less nutritious cold weather grazing. Bulls are also fed daily for two month prior to breeding period. Protein tubs are available during the breeding cycle and the calves are creep fed all of the time.

Health protocols are vigorous with regimented vaccination and worming. Jim prefers Safeguard paste wormer which he administers once a year with no apparent resistance. He uses a pour on for lice and sprays when needed as the cows come to feed.

Jim also raises 50 percent of his own hay with most of it harvested from a 10 acre Bermuda patch. The rest of his land is a mixture of fescue and Bermuda which is over- seeded with mixed yellow, white and red clovers. He typically over seeds in the fall with vetch because it produces a good winter pasture and provides a first cutting of hay.

“I really enjoyed my engineering career and have several patents, but I can’t think of a better way to spend my time than being with my cattle,” Jim said.


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