From city girl to hands-on farmer

Nancy and Les Midla own a purebred Hereford operation in Marianna, Pennsylvania

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Les and Nancy Midla
Les and Nancy Midla own 500 acres in Marianna, Pennsylvania, where they calve 70 purebred Herefords per year. (Katy Mumaw)

MARIANNA, Pa. — When Nancy Midla was growing up in metropolitan New York, she never thought farming would become her passion.

“I knew nothing about farming; the only pet I had as a child was a goldfish,” she said.

Dentist or farmer 

Then Nancy met Les, her husband, while he was in dental school at Temple University, and they married in 1970. At that point, “she still thought she was marrying a dentist,” Les says.

“I soon found out he was a farmer at heart,” Nancy said. “I was interested, though, because it was his passion.”

In 1973, they moved back to Marianna, in Washington County, Pennsylvania, and a few years later, they purchased a homestead with land contiguous with his family’s farm. The farm is now 500 acres.

When Les was young, his family milked cows. His grandfather and father also operated a retail processing plant and collected the milk from the other farmers and delivered it door to door.

Nancy Midla
Nancy and Les Midla believe that being a responsible purebred Hereford grower includes recording copious amounts of data and sending to the national association to do their part in continuous improvement of the breed. (Katy Mumaw photo)

They sold the dairy cows in the 1950s and bought some beef cows to “keep the farm clean.” His family bought their first registered Herefords in 1956, when Les was 10.

Nancy’s childhood in the city was much different, but she evolved as a farm wife, gradually learning and taking on responsibilities. She took an artificial insemination course and became involved in breeding, calf care, and daily operations, and now there isn’t an farm element she doesn’t have her hands in.

Ag advocate

With a background in education, once she married into the farm, she never stopped learning or teaching about agriculture.

She became involved in the county cattlemen’s association, as a charter board member, and also joined the Washington County Farm Bureau, and was a driving force in bringing Ag in the Classroom to western Pennsylvania.

During the 1980s, she visited elementary schools to teach some 400 students per year about agriculture through educational materials and slide presentations featuring her farm.

“It is important to give students an awareness, so they can have an appreciation for farmers and the work it takes to put their food on the table.” Nancy said. “Just like a firefighter — they learn about them and appreciate their service — the same awareness and respect should be given to the farmer.”

“It is important to give students an awareness, so they can have an appreciation for farmers and the work it takes to put their food on the table. Just like a firefighter — they learn about them and appreciate their service — the same awareness and respect should be given to the farmer.”

— Nancy Midla

She has been a Farm Bureau member for more than 40 years, playing a major role in Ag Days at the Mall, where she brought livestock from her farm into the center concourse of the local shopping mall so the public could see, smell and touch animals and learn where their food comes from.

When their children, Kim and Brendan, were in 4-H, Nancy served on the county Extension board and as regional secretary.

Nancy was appointed by the governor to be on the state board for farmland preservation. Her mother-in-law was one of the original board members in the 1980s that got the state program up and running.

The Midlas were one of the first families to sell development rights to their farm, Flat Stone Lick, through the Washington County preservation program.

Because of Nancy’s advocacy and commitment to teaching and learning about agriculture, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau named her the Outstanding Woman in Agriculture this past November.

“I always felt as though there was a need, and felt that if I didn’t do it  — it wouldn’t get done. I can make a difference and it needs to be done,” she said about her volunteer work.

“Over the years, there are not many times I’ve said no,” she admits.

Les supports her volunteer work and is involved in some himself.

“It is important to give back, for the good of the order,” he said.

Purebreds

On the farm, Nancy does her part to move the Hereford breed forward.

“We are all about the data,” she said. “Responsible purebred breeders track and submit lots of data.”

Nancy records herd details, and sends hundreds of data points such as birth and weaning weights, body part circumferences and many more to the national association, so they can compare and track the breed.

They send blood samples for genetic DNA testing, as well. They can tell a lot from DNA testing, but it doesn’t replace the data, she said.

They sell at purebred sales each fall and raise commercial bulls.

For the past several years, they have been using sexed semen to get females. Their purebred Hereford herd has about 70 calves a year. They use the males as bulls or steers for freezer beef.

Nancy Midla
The Midlas sell cow/calf pairs at purebred Hereford sales in the fall. Their bulls are sold all over the country and many steers are sold as freezer beef. (Katy Mumaw photo)

They ultrasound the yearlings in February to check for appropriate sized ribeyes and marbling.

Nancy loves Herefords for their docile disposition and wouldn’t raise another breed.

Succession

The Midlas are proud of their family and their farm, but have not yet solidified their succession plan.

Their son, Brendan, is an engineer by day, but is active on the farm. He has two children, who also love the farm, the Midlas said.

“He would do it full time in a heartbeat, if it could support him and his family,” Nancy said.

Kim, their daughter, lives in Erie, where both she and her husband are also engineers.

The couple, both in their early 70s, say the farm’s future is still a big question mark. They have worked with an attorney on the matter, but haven’t been able to get their children to commit.

“There has been a lot of thought and no action,” Les admitted.

They are hopeful the succession plan will work itself out, but for now they aren’t eyeing retirement, and Nancy has no plans to stop educating others and making her mark on quality Hereford beef.

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