The Miller Family -- Committed to Beef Farming Legacy
Sheila and Mike Miller, Tulpehocken Township, Berks County, operate beef and crop farms located near the village of Host, just west of a historic Indian trail which is Route 419 today. The history of the region and its productive soils are important to the Miller family. Their farm name, Deitschland Farm, honors their Pennsylvania “Deitsch” ancestors who settled in eastern Pennsylvania two centuries ago and started farming.
“Mike and I bought our first registered Hereford cattle in 1979 and have been growing our herd ever since,” said Sheila. “We currently calve out around 50 cows every year, mostly in the spring.” The Millers purchased their first cattle before they bought their first farm. In 1980, Mike and Sheila bought the original 63-acre farm, and added a 90-acre farm they had been renting in 1997.
The Millers’ daughter, Emilie, is a former employee of the Pennsylvania Beef Council. “Emilie returned home from Kansas State University in 2006 to help promote beef sales through the Cattlemen’s Beef Board checkoff program,” Sheila recalled. “I tagged along with her once in a while as she travelled to the cities of Boston, New York, Washington D.C. and Baltimore. It was interesting to see that side of beef marketing and how our urban customers enjoy learning about the people who raise their steaks! It is important for us to share our message with these people who have no clue about beef production or where their meals come from.”
In 2010, Emilie returned to her alma mater to work for their Foundation, supporting the College of Agriculture. That same year she married classmate and fellow livestock judging team member Austin Fink who works for Cargill in Topeka. The couple lives in Wamego, Kansas, and raises Simmental cattle and show pigs on his family’s farm. Emilie maintains a few head of Herefords on her parents’ Pennsylvania farms and makes sure she times her visits home to help with vaccinations and weaning.
“I am happy Emilie has continued our farming heritage, even if she is half way across the country,” commented Miller. “She is a fourth generation beef producer, so cattle are in her blood.” Sheila’s parents raised commercial Herefords on their 110-acre farm near Hershey since the 1950s. Today her father, Vernon, still feeds the yearling heifers that spend the summer in his pasture every day. He will be 91 in September and still enjoys being part of the cattle business and eating home-raised beef from Deitschland Farm. Sheila’s maternal grandfather raised commercial beef on his Lebanon County farm.
“From the time I was a child, I have loved being around cattle,” said Sheila. “Even though my parents drilled into me the fact that I had to get a college degree, I always knew I wanted to farm.” After getting a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Penn State University in 1974, Miller became the first woman hired by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In 1979, she became an editor for Lancaster Farming Newspaper and in 1983 was hired as executive director of the Pennsylvania Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. In 1992, Miller was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives where she served her constituents, and the farm community, for 14 years. She retired from the House in 2006 and a year later was hired by the Berks County Commissioners to assist the agriculture and food industries as the economic development coordinator. She continues to perform those duties for the county.
“Our off-farm incomes allowed Mike and I to purchase our farms,” Sheila noted. “But working fulltime and farming is not easy. It feels like you are working around the clock, especially during calving season and summer haymaking.” Mike retired from K & K Feeds Inc., Richland, in 2009, after nearly 30 years with the Purina dealership.
“The farms have kept us well grounded over the years and have given us a better perspective on life,” said Sheila. “Even though it’s sometimes challenging when weather extremes or difficult calving leave you wondering why you are crazy enough to be farming, being around cattle and driving a tractor on a beautiful summer day with nothing but blue sky above and green grass below makes all the hardships fade into the background. Watching the calves grow into healthy, productive cows has its own rewards, and gives us a sense of accomplishment no certificate of achievement can rival.”
Mike and Sheila own 150 acres and rent two additional farms, totaling 115 acres, where they raise forages to feed their herd. Their home farms are devoted to rotational grazing and are set up with watering systems that serve eight paddocks at one farm. “We worked with the NRCS to make these improvements to our grazing system over the past few years,” said Sheila. “Soil and water conservation are important pieces of our farming operations and always have been, but now it’s even better. The cows have access to fresh, cool water all year long and don’t have to travel great distances to get to a trough. That saves energy and wear-and-tear on walkways.”
The Millers sell registered seedstock, feeder cattle, and freezer beef at Deitschland Farm. The cow herd is maintained on the rolling hillside pastures year-round; yearlings are given a grain supplement to ensure a good start as productive females, and feeder cattle are grown out using a low-energy ration. “Our fed steers are sold to freezer beef customers and are generally sixteen-months old when they leave the farm,” said Miller. “Our customers keep coming back for more and rave about the flavor and leanness of our product.”
While the showring has not been part of the Millers’ busy schedule since daughter Emilie completed her 4-H and FFA careers, the Millers have received national recognition through the American Hereford Association’s Dams of Distinction and Sires of Distinction programs. “We have had the great honor of having at least one of our cows earn the DOD honor on an annual basis for years,” said Sheila. “That is no small achievement for our farm.” This year the national organization started honoring Sires of Distinction and Millers’ herd bull made the list. “We purchased CS Bomber 6L from my Penn State classmate, Denny Stockdale, back in 2004. The bull was grand champion at the Keystone International Livestock Expo in 2003. He was a great addition to our herd and his progeny have earned him this special recognition by the AHA.”
The Millers don’t have plans of retiring from the beef business anytime soon. “While we have no way to predict the future, we have worked our entire lives to build a registered beef herd that is functional, productive, and fits any of our farm marketing initiatives,” Sheila noted. “We are happy to have repeat customers who appreciate the dispositions and quality of our heifers and bulls for their pastures. Our feeder cattle customers keep coming back every year, as well as our freezer beef buyers. That says a lot about our products and keeps us smiling.”
The Millers are happy that their farms have been preserved for future generations and will never be converted to non-farm uses. “This land is ours to care for and needs to be saved for those who follow us. It is our legacy.”