Current Progressive Dairy digital edition
Advertisement

Passing the torch at Mil-R-Mor

Kathleen O’Keefe Published on 24 November 2015
barn and silos

It was a different era in 1956 when a young couple from Brome, Quebec, pulled up stakes and moved to Illinois to begin a career in the dairy business.

When Bob and Kaye Miller established their future on American soil with a scant $300 in their pockets, their dream was to one day have a herd of good Holstein cattle.

advertisement

advertisement

Little did they imagine that one of their cow families would become respected and celebrated worldwide, and that their Mil-R-Mor prefix would become synonymous with deep pedigrees filled with high-type, high-lifetime-production cows.

Much has been written about Glenridge Citation Roxy EX-97 4E, her hundreds of descendants and her extensive influence on the Holstein breed.

The Millers filled out their family “pedigree” as well in Illinois, with a son and four daughters and, subsequently, numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The love of farming permeates the whole family, and three generations have been involved with the operation of the farm.

Finding themselves hemmed in by urban sprawl at their longtime farm in Dundee, Illinois, near Chicago, the family relocated to Orangeville in 2007 to the more ag-friendly northwest part of the state, where the operation grew to milking 130 cows and cropping more than 1,300 acres.

With that move came the opportunity for a family member to seriously consider taking over the operation, as Bob and Kaye wanted to slow down. Their granddaughter, Lorilee Schultz, along with her four brothers, grew up on her parents’ nearby livestock farm.

advertisement

She spent summers on her grandparents’ dairy farm and from a young age felt the pull of the dairy industry. Her parents relocated from Illinois to Iowa during her freshman year of high school, and she chose to live that year on the Mil-R-Mor farm, where she milked cows every night.

Lorilee Schultz, Kaye and Bob MillerLorilee attended Iowa State University, where she double majored in ag business and economics and minored in animal science and journalism. Upon graduation, she wasn’t planning on a return to the family farm, but with the change in location and with the new larger operation, the opportunity for her to become the full-time herdsman presented itself.

“There was a strong family interest in seeing the farm continue, but no one else was in a position to make it their full-time undertaking,” remarks Lorilee. “I’ve had a lot of help from my family, both with emotional support and with on-farm help. For instance, my brothers, with their custom-chopping business, handle the big job of making feed for the farm, my cousin and his fiancée help a lot with milking, and my aunt is our calf raiser.”

Serious transition planning got underway a couple of years ago. In 2015, with Bob hitting his 82nd birthday, the time seemed right to formalize the changeover to Lorilee, now 30 years old. They spent plenty of time in the FSA office hammering out the financial strategy.

With the finances in mind, they decided to have a sale in order to reduce the size of the milking herd. That may seem unusual in today’s culture of expanding dairy operations, but it made sense for Lorilee.

“We were milking 130 cows in two separate tiestall barns on the farm. With the reduction to 56 cows, I can have them all in one barn. It saves on the cost of labor, and I can now do the best job possible with the individual cows.”

advertisement

The Mil-R-Mor Generations Sale took place on Oct. 17 and averaged $2,466 on 122 head. The sale drew a large crowd from across the upper Midwest, and the immaculate farm looked its best on a crisp, sunny fall day. “While it was hard to part with those cattle on the sale, there’s a really good group remaining to go forward with,” Lorilee says.

Her breeding philosophy for the herd won’t differ greatly from the previous owners. “I think Grandpa and Grandma had the right idea – to breed profitable cows that last a long time with high lifetime production and high components that carry on from deep pedigrees. Older cows will continue to be key in our breeding program. We really respect those 8- to 15-year-old cows that are scored Excellent and have more than 200,000 pounds of milk lifetime.”

She does acknowledge that times have changed in the marketing of registered animals. “The value of registered cattle is different than it used to be. We’re still figuring out how to maximize the value of animals that are not at the top of the index list. We’re not going to chase genomic numbers in our herd, but we may focus more attention on Red & White and polled genetics.”

people in a tentStill, when speaking with Lorilee Schultz, she exudes optimism for the dairy industry and for the future of Mil-R-Mor Farm in particular. The family seems to have sidestepped most of the difficult, even negative, dynamics that can occur when a family operation changes hands.

“I’ve been luckier than most with my family and all of their positive support,” Lorilee notes appreciatively. “We did a lot of forward planning – the sale was part of that – but it also was really helpful that my mom teaches transition planning as part of her job with Iowa State Extension, so she has really coordinated keeping the lines of communication open, which can be the tricky part in any family farm transition.”

While Lorilee is now taking the helm in steering the farm day-to-day, she is already contemplating the future structure of the family operation. “We have lots of options with our facilities. We’re in the reorganization stage right now. We may move to more intensive grazing with an eye to semi-seasonal calving. We’re also contemplating tackling some on-farm processing; that opens the door for younger family members to be involved with the operation in the future.”

The Miller family history has demonstrated that hard work, innovation and a willingness to adapt to a changing industry can bring notable success. With those qualities ingrained into the current generation, Mil-R-Mor Farm looks to continue breeding outstanding Holsteins for years to come.  PD

Born and raised on a Wisconsin dairy farm, Kathleen O’Keefe is a freelance writer and lifelong purebred dairy cattle enthusiast. She currently resides in Hammond, Wisconsin.

PHOTO 1: Mil-R-Mor Farm relocated from Dundee to Orangeville in 2007 and now consists of more than 1,300 acres. 

PHOTO 2: Lorilee Schultz (left), the granddaughter of Kaye and Bob Miller, looks forward to taking over the day-to-day operations of Mil-R-Mor Farm in Orangeville, Illinois.

PHOTO 3: A large crowd filled the big tent for the Mil-R-Mor Generations Sale on a gorgeous autumn day. Photos by Kathleen O’Keefe.

LATEST BLOG

LATEST NEWS