MILLERSBURG, Ohio — Lee Miller grew up around cattle and dairy farming, but it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that he began paying more attention to pedigrees and genetics.
Miller was raised on an Amish dairy farm in Adams County, and also in eastern Holmes County. In 1983, his parents moved the family to their current farm, located between Millersburg and Shreve.
For a few years, the Millers fed out some beef cattle and some sows, but by 1987, when Lee was in his late teens, he left farming behind.
Lee spent about 15 years away from the farm, but eventually came back to work for his father, Levi, who had launched a manufacturing business called Paint Valley Equipment. The company builds heavy equipment parts for the construction industry, with administrative and manufacturing facilities adjacent to the family’s present-day beef farm.
After Lee returned, it didn’t take long for his love of farming to resurface.
“I started taking an interest in getting on a tractor, mowing fields … just anything to get away from the office,” he said.
Getting into beef
By about 2005, he had bought some crossbred beef cows from a neighbor, and his small herd kept growing. But the more he learned, the more he found opportunity to improve, and in 2009, he bought his own herd bull.
“I made the decision to be more consistent about the product that we produce,” he said. “That changed what we were producing.”
Today, Lee operates a registered Shorthorn herd that includes 125 cows, his own bulls, and more than 100 calves a year. Known as Paint Valley Farms — the operation produces Shorthorns for the commercial cattle industry, small farm and exhibition.
Miller also currently serves as president of the Ohio Shorthorn Breeders Association. He said he likes the breed because of its docile temperament, ease of calving and the overall functional traits Shorthorns are known for.
The past few weeks, Miller and his family — which includes wife, Dawn; daughters Megan, 21, and Whitney, 16; and sons, Grant, 15, and Derek, 11 — have been preparing cattle for Ohio’s premier beef event, the Ohio Beef Expo, March 17-19.
At the same time, the Millers have been getting bulls ready for their own online bull sale, which will be held just two days after Expo, March 21.
Lee Miller said the Beef Expo — now in its 30th year — is the best publicity his herd gets all year. And, it’s good publicity for other cattlemen as well.
“It’s a really good place for breeds to showcase their product and I think it’s important for breeds to bring some of the quality they need to bring, because people evaluate cattle based on ‘that weekend, and that event,’” he said.
Curt Hively, a Columbiana County beef producer who also operates Highland Supply, said the Expo offers “a concentration of the right consumer” and is one of the best shows he attends.
Hively has also bought cattle from Miller, and helped Miller convert his existing farm buildings into an efficient beef handling system by installing cattle chutes, new gates, automatic waterers and fans.
“He (Lee) understands what he needs to make, which is quality for his customers,” Hively said.
Lee’s herd didn’t just grow in size, but also in quality. He’s a firm believer in pedigree, data and performance. He collects data on all of the calves born on his farm, and is not afraid to cull traits he doesn’t like.
He said some cattle buyers want to look at data, and others do not. But for him, the numbers matter.
“If I don’t have data to look at, I don’t know where to start,” he said. “It’s not the only selection, but it is part of the selection.”
He records the data himself, on paper, and then enters it into the breed registry on his computer. It’s often as simple as birthdate, weight, yearling weight, etc., but it makes a big difference.
“Sometimes I wear myself out taking data points,” he said, “but in creating a product, I cannot analyze what I can’t measure.”
The cattle are mostly Lee’s project, but his children help with the show animals, and have done well over the years at both the Expo, the National Western Stock Show and in 2011, daughter Megan had grand champion steer at the Ohio State Fair.
Lee plans to take two bulls and two heifers for the breed sale March 18, and he’ll have additional cattle on display in the Genetic Pathway and for the junior show on Sunday.
He said the Expo brings buyers from across Ohio and across the nation,
Something for all
For those who want to stay all three days, there’s breed shows, showmanship, a quality assurance program, junior show, and the opportunity to network with other cattle producers.
Even though Lee has only been to the past 10 Expos, he said he’s pleased with the growth in that amount of time, and the work that the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association puts in. Last year, more than 600 youth participated in the quality assurance program, and more than 700 cattle were shown in the junior show.
“I can’t imagine sitting there, as the first organizers, to look at what they have on their hands today … there’s no way they could dream this,” he said.
Lee remembers the first time someone told him about the Expo and how it was the best beef event around.
“And they’re right. It is.”