Former TJLA Family -
by Samantha Borgstedt
Triple Crown – winning all three Texas major stock shows (Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Houston) in a single year. It is a dream of every breeder, and in 2012, for the Miller family of Seagraves, Texas, it was reality.
“We love it when our sheep win,” Derick Miller, youngest of the two brothers, said. “We do our best to breed champion sheep, and are proud when they can get the job done in the end.”
The Miller family has been raising sheep worthy of purple banners for over 40 years. Jim Miller purchased the first of his registered Hampshire herd in 1968 from Clifford Throckmorton. He expanded by buying lambs from George Alsweed and Ronald Hogg, and in less than five years, Jim had bred the Grand Champion wethers at both San Antonio and Houston.
“In 1974 we had a great set of twins,” Jim said. “They were our high sellers that year, selling for a little over a hundred dollars each. One went on to win San Antonio while the other won Houston.” Jim said he remembers those lambs being bid off using twenty-five cent increments, and Brent Drennen, who purchased the San Antonio lamb, knew he was going to be in for it when his daddy found out he went over his $100 limit. In the end, however, it paid off.
Of course there is no better advertisement than a champion picture, and having two of them that year created a high demand for the Miller’s sheep. Their annual sale increased in both revenue and traffic.
They began taking several of their favorite picks to Sedalia in 1977, and to this day continue consigning to the sale, winning supreme champion ewe 4 out of the last 10 years.
When Dustin, the eldest brother, began his show career in 1990, he did so by showing nothing else but Miller show lambs. The family discontinued their live auction sale and began selling wethers private treaty.
For the next 13 years the Miller family experienced a winning streak that filled their home with purple banners, trophies, and happy memories. Dustin was a TJLA all-around champion several times, won San Antonio in 1995, Houston in 1997, was Reserve Grand at Fort Worth, and also won the Houston market hog show. Derick experienced similar success, exhibiting the Reserve Grand at Houston in 2000, going on to win it in 2003, Reserve Grand in Fort Worth in 2002 and 2003, Grand at the State Fair of Texas in 2001 and Grand and Reserve Grand at El Paso, a show that their mother, April, won in the 1970’s.
The Miller brothers not only found buckles and banners in the lamb barn, but also love. They each married women with both knowledge and success in the sheep industry. Jessica, Dustin’s wife, exhibited the grand champion wether at the California State Fair. Ashley, Derick’s wife, exhibited the grand champion wether in her own home state at the Iowa State Fair.
Today, the Millers live nearby in both Gaines and Terry County where they help each other with their sheep and farming. Although Jim and both boys have their own herds, fields, and orchards, the family has a combined total of over 700 sheep and 15,000 pecan trees. The operation functions as a family unit with each member putting in maximum effort when it comes time to breed, lamb, plant cotton, harvest pecans, sell sheep, prune trees, and whatever else the never-ending list of things-to-do entails.
“We do everything ourselves,” Dustin said. “We always stay busy, but it allows us to be in control and make sure everything is done right.”
Doing things right does not necessarily mean doing things like everyone else. Jim said they sell their sheep differently than most people, waiting until they are weaned and sheared before letting buyers come look and make a purchase.
“Selling the lambs later eliminates a lot of worry,” Jim said. “This way we and the buyers are happy when they drive off, and they do so with their lamb in the trailer.”
This year, lambs sired by Maker will be what many of their buyers hope to drive off with. All three of the 2012 triple crown champions were sired by the buck, and the Millers are proud of the lambs out of him for this coming show season.
While breeders are nipping at their hills to buy Maker semen, the Millers aren’t budging. They themselves have naturally and artificially bred several ewes to the buck; however, they are not letting it leave their own herd.
Flushing and AIing was incorporated into the Miller’s program in 2006. This has allowed them to build upon their genetic program with the high quality ewes and bucks they currently own and have a closed flock for a number of years. They do offer breeding sheep through online sales, allowing breeders to incorporate the Miller’s winning genetics in their own herds at the convenience of a home computer.
“We have really been impressed with the online sales,” Derick said. “While we will continue selling our show wethers private treaty from the home place, we have full intentions of continuing to use online sales to offer our genetics to others.”
When it comes to buying the Miller’s show wethers, it is much like everything else around their place. They like to do it themselves. The family wants buyers to drive to their place, which isn’t exactly on the main beaten path, see the lambs, visit about their intentions, and close the deal with a handshake. By selling private treaty, the Miller’s can make sure each lamb goes to the best home possible with the highest probability of becoming a champion the following spring.
Buyers drive and fly hundreds of miles to the pecan orchard that shades some of the best sheep in the nation in hopes of purchasing a future champion. Several of the Miller’s sheep go out of state, while many stay in Texas where the family can enjoy watching them throughout the year and at the majors. The Millers also enjoy selling lambs to local FFA and 4-H exhibitors and advising the kids with their project.
“Jim loves helping the local young kids,” April said. “He helps get them a lamb and makes sure they are feeding and caring for it like they should be.”
The entire Miller family has a deep-rooted passion for the sheep industry. They have experienced the thrill of a grand champion drive from both inside and outside the show ring, and have created lifelong memories and friendships along the way.
“Some of our fiercest competitors when Dustin and I were showing are now our best friends and customers,” Derick said. “The sheep industry is close knit on both a state and national level, and we are lucky and glad to be a part of it.”