Len and Amy Miller bring their operation to Missouri from New Mexico
Moving from a 3,000-acre ranch in New Mexico to a much smaller spread in the Ozarks may not sound like a fair trade, but for Len and Amy Miller, there were some advantages.
“I wanted water and grass,” Len said. “The water table there is just about gone. We came here and had to drill a well. I was teasing the guy and asking him if he was a good witch, and he laughed and said, ‘We don’t do that here. Tell me where you want it, and I’ll guarantee you 40 gallons a minute.’”
Len, Amy and their son Landon moved to the Ozarks in 2016 to raise cattle along the Niangua River. They soon realized just how much water they could have for their farm.
“When we got here, after an 18-hour drive, Len said, ‘Let’s go to the river,’” Amy recalled. “I told him I didn’t remember it being that big; it was flooded, and when it floods, it’s 10-foot deep. When we got here and unloaded the cows, they just went to belly-deep mud. We didn’t know what kind of fences we had or what was in the fields. We got a hotwire around them, and they ate 24/7.”
“They thought they were in hog heaven,” Len added. “I had never seen anything like it.”
In addition to ranching for more than 30 years in New Mexico, Len, Amy, and their three sons, Landon, Levi and Lance, traveled the country with their family bluegrass band, the Triple L Band. Their time spent performing at Silver Dollar City drew them into calling the region home.
The Millers now have three farms, totaling about 310 acres, they operate in Dallas County, Mo. They run 60 commercial cow/calf pairs of Brangus, Angus and other cross females, as well as about 200 stocker calves at Miller’s River View Farm.
“On the outside places is where we keep our cows and calves, then the stockers are here (at the farm where their home is located),” Amy explained. “About half of our cows are what we brought with us from New Mexico.”
Len said his Texas-raised Brangus cows quickly adjusted to the fescue pastures and the Ozarks climate, but his Angus cows that originated in Kentucky struggled. The animals that struggled to thrive were sold, replaced by animals acclimated to the forages found in the Ozarks.
The Millers admit there are still a few learning curves when it comes to raising cattle in the Ozarks.
“Where we’re from, the rule of thumb is 32 acres per cow. If you want to do it right, it’s 37 to 40,” Len said. “Our Brangus came from grazing 3,000 acres to 110, and we laughed because we were being mean because we cut them down to 20 acres. Now, sometimes they are on 2 with rotational grazing. We had to renovate some of the bottoms. I think, once we get our education, we’re going to try some warm-season grasses. We’ve been at this a long time and ran 1,000 head in the winter, or more. You might as well throw everything you know over your shoulder because it’s all new here.”
After moving their cattle to Missouri, Len and Amy said they began building fences and corrals, a project they continue today.
“We work with the NRCS (Natural Recourses Conservation Service) to implement rotational grazing,” Amy said. The utilization of the rotational system has afforded them efficient use of their forages.
“The cows grazed the bottoms this winter, and the grass is already 2-feet tall,” Amy said. “It’s amazing.”
Cows, which are serviced by a four-bull battery, are typically spring calvers. However, the Millers are finding some of their cows are not rebreeding on schedule, not to just the cows they brought from New Mexico.
“We have always calved in the spring and had a handful of fall calves, unintentionally,” Len explained, adding that he believes the fescue pastures have attributed to the slow breed back. “We are changing some mineral around, this and that, trying to firm things up.”
Stocker cattle also graze through a rotational system and receive about a pound of a commercial ration each per day.
Stockers are typically brought to the farm in February and will graze through October.
“We ran heifers for 25 years, and here the markets are a little more particular between steers and heifers,” Len said. “With heifers, you get to 625 (pounds) and you’re done. With steers, you can feed them a little longer, so we may hold them a little longer.”
There were few changes for health protocols for the Millers, but they have added a drench wormer, worming the stocker calves every 90 days.
“Our biggest problem is pink eye in the stockers,” Len said.
“And we even vaccinated for it, but it didn’t help last year,” Amy added.
In addition to their other cattle enterprises, the Millers started a beef business. Animals for the beef program are from the Miller cow/calf herd. They are raised as naturally as possible, promotined as grass-fed, grain-finished beef.
Steers put into the beef program are finished on grain for at least 90 days prior to processing. The goal weight is about 1,200 to 1,400 pounds at processing.
“In July, I will start doing the individual cuts,” Amy said. “So many people just have the freezer on top of their refrigerator, so they can’t store a whole beef at a time. For some, they just don’t want to pay that much upfront.”
By the end of 2021, they will have processed 16 steers for beef sales, with plans for 18 next year, and even more in 2023.
Amy and Len have started an online store to help reach more customers with their farm-fresh beef. They plan to offer a monthly subscription service as well.
The online store also allows customers to buy not only beef but farm-raised Cornish chicken and turkey.
The Millers spent two years on the road, going home for just a day or two before heading out to their next gig, but Len and Amy are settling into life and farming in the Ozarks.
“I was always ready to leave,’ Len said. “Here, I don’t want to go anywhere; I don’t even want to go to town. When I get ready to leave here, it’s because I want to escape the work.”