A Lifetime of Passion - Millborne Farm ~ Granby, CT - Cowsmo

A Lifetime of Passion – Millborne Farm ~ Granby, CT

This story was published in the Late Summer 2023 issue of Cowsmopolitan magazine. 

Morey Miller with his longtime herdsman, Paul Saunders, and Maples-MP Defiant Luna (VG-88), one of several Holsteins that they own in partnership.

If you’re a lucky human you find the love of a lifetime – it may be another person or it may be a lifelong passion. For P. Morey Miller, that passion is purebred dairy cattle, and specifically, purebred dairy cattle that can parade around a show ring. The first flame of that passion was fanned when he was 15 years old and exhibited the Junior Champion at the Northeast PA Championship Show, and it’s burned brightly ever since.

Morey first loved the Holstein breed while growing up on the family farm in Towanda, Pennsylvania with their Royal Haven herd. When it came time to further his education, he headed off to Penn State University where he majored in Dairy Science. His love of taking care of cows was evident, and he was steered in the right direction by his professors who suggested he should apply to veterinary school. Though his uncle advised against it – ‘You don’t want to do that. You’ll never get any sleep again.’ – he had the backing of his mother. She was a teacher and fully supported his application in 1968 to the Cornell Vet School where he was accepted and subsequently obtained his degree.

Upon graduation, he received a job offer from a multi-person, large and small animal practice in Granby, Connecticut. From his time traveling on the tanbark trail, Morey knew there were good dairy herds in that north-central area of the state, such as Charles Stroh’s Hilltop Farm, so that location appealed to him. Eventually, he became a partner in the clinic and settled into a long career as a veterinarian, while always keeping his hand in the Registered Holstein business.

In 1974, a pretty dairy farm in Granby came up for sale, and it seemed the ideal opportunity for Morey to establish his own herd in Connecticut. The barn had 40 stanchion stalls, which were converted to tie-stalls, and Morey began filling the stalls with Holsteins he owned that were still housed at the family farm in PA, which was now being run by his older brother.  Once those cows were in place, he began his journey of breeding his Millborne herd.

The farm came with 38 acres, with some of that used for pasture and some to raise hay and forage for the herd. Additional acreage is rented to produce more hay and feed for which the planting and harvesting is hired out to custom operators. Some additional feed is also purchased. The barn, which holds 43 cows in tie-stalls, was updated this past summer when a local Amish crew did all the work in a remarkable two days.

With his full-time career as a veterinarian, Morey always had a herd manager tackling the work and details on the farm. For the past ten years, that role has been filled by Paul Saunders, who Morey praises as having done a great job at Millborne. “Paul does all the day-to-day work on the farm and really does a wonderful job with the herd. Paul & I see things the same way and look at cows the same way – we both like great type!,” says Morey.

Also a fan of the show ring, Paul has been buying into some of Morey’s best cows. He’s also invested in other cattle, including a calf purchased from the Massachusetts Blue Ribbon Sale from Todd Whittier. That calf, Whittier-Farms Solomon Lunge is now EX-94, and is the dam of a VG-88 Defiant and a VG-86 Advent, both of whom carry Paul’s Maple-MP prefix. The Defiant, Maples-MP Defiant Luna, was Grand Champion, Best Udder, and Champion Bred & Owned of the Connecticut State Holstein Show in June. Morey says that Paul has bought the right pedigrees and now has six or seven really nice cows in the barn.

That’s saying quite a lot as the whole herd (31 Holsteins and 12 Guernseys) are all scored VG or EX. The Holstein herd carries a BAA of 112% with 12 EX cows, while 6 of the 12 Guernseys (more about them in a bit) are Excellent. They’ve had good success with Solomon, Diamondback, Monterey, Doorman, McCutchen, and Unstopabull in the herd, and have been Sidekick, Master, Fitters Choice, and Unix daughters in the heifer pens.

Morey and Paul had a very successful state show, in addition to Paul’s Grand Champion. Morey is excited about the fall show season for Millborne Sidekick Trudy, who won the fall calf class and was named Junior Champion, and for Clees Diamondback Claire, who won the winter yearling class. Claire was 2nd earlier this year in a big class at the Northeast All-Breeds Spring Holstein Show.

In the past 20 years, Morey’s name has been announced often at high-level Guernsey shows. What persuaded this tried and true Holstein breeder to open his doors to Guernseys? His youngest daughter, Ashley, who had spotted a potential purchase on the UCONN Calf Sale. Morey remembers, “She said, ‘Dad, there’s a calf that probably won’t bring a lot and I’d like to buy her. What I didn’t tell you is that this calf is a Guernsey.’ I went with her to the sale, bought the calf, and brought her home. I loved the calf and her temperament, and I told Ashley her calf needed a partner!”

Morey now wanted a show calf, but he knew he needed some advice in learning about this ‘new to him’ breed. He contacted Seth Johnson who he knew had a great eye for Guernseys and an encyclopedic knowledge about pedigrees. That first venture turned out well as the calf Seth found for him ended up Reserve All-American! With that start, soon Morey was in the ‘if a few are good, more are better’ phase of building the Guernsey segment of the herd.

The astute purchase of R Way Royal Oak Faye, a good heifer that became an EX-94 brood cow, paved the way for many champion rosettes to return to Granby. Faye herself in the early 2000’s was a many-time winner at national Guernsey shows in Madison, Louisville, and Harrisburg, as well as the NY State Fair and NY Spring Show. Her Tiller son, Millborne Tiller Fayes Fame, is still one of the highest type bulls in the breed. Her granddaughter, Millborne Hillpoint S Fiesta-ET EX-93, was the Unanimous All-American 4-Year-Old in 2015.

Morey feels that Guernseys get a bad rap from some people who have never actually worked with the breed. “They have some critics that say they aren’t hardy, but some of my Guernseys spend half the winter outside. I think the endurance of the breed has really improved. I’ve always been preaching about improving the hind legs and now we’re starting to see much better quality there too,” he notes.

The newborn calves can take longer to get up than other dairy breeds, but he considers that a quirk of the breed, not a sign of weakness, as they are healthy calves. That gentle temperament that won him over from the very first calf is still evident, and he vouches for their intelligence. “They have a great memory for any kind of mis-treatment and absolutely back away from people they don’t trust or like, but other than that, they are very easy to work with,” he comments. One notable exception to this gentleness was the Fiesta line. “She was one tough hombre, and that aggressiveness has passed on through that branch of the Faye family,” he observes. Fiesta is now at Springhill in Ohio and, according to reports, is still as hard-nosed as ever.

Perhaps the biggest challenge Morey faces in mating his Guernsey herd is that there are very few high-type bulls available. “It seems many of the AI studs, if they carry Guernsey bulls at all, collect about 1500 units from a bull as a young sire, then get rid of him. If the bull turns out well, the semen is in short supply very quickly,” he notes. “We’re seeing that with Drone now, for example.” He’s using Jack Daniels, Latimer, and Alex (a Fame son) in the herd now.

Morey has a lot of respect for Randy Knapp of Knapps Guernseys and will call for his thoughts and advice on bulls and pedigrees. He currently has two EX-93 cows from Knapp breeding in the herd.

Guernseys pointed to the fall shows include Millborne Alex Bianca VG-87, a junior 3-year-old that was Intermediate Champion at the Northeast All-Breeds Spring Guernsey Show this year, and Millborne HP Drone Finley, a summer yearling that has was Junior Champion at the Northeast All-Breeds Spring Guernsey Show, and Reserve Junior Champion at the Guernsey Gold Showcase.

Both the Holsteins and Guernseys are marketed through word of mouth, consigning to sales, and some print advertisements with Cowsmopolitan, though Morey admits that he isn’t too anxious to get rid of them because he loves breeding and building cow families.

After a 50-year career as a veterinarian, Morey retired, and though he’s had a few back problems recently, he’s ‘upright and out in the barn everyday. Now 82, he remains steadfastly optimistic about the future of high-type registered dairy cattle. “I’m pretty convinced that there are a lot of people out there, not currently on a farm, that enjoy showing cattle and they are able to finance it. Our business will always attract new people all the time because it’s an emotional undertaking to breed purebred cattle.”

As for the future of his small Connecticut operation, time will tell. His two daughters are still in agriculture – his oldest daughter, Emily, works for FSA in New York and still enjoys showing cattle. His younger daughter, Ashley, is married to John Collins, and is very involved with the Collins family dairy farm. He thinks very highly of his herdman Paul, who he says is invaluable with all the things he does on the farm and would like to see him continue to build his herd.

Whatever the next chapter holds, Morey also feels it’s important to recognize those that have helped along the way, including Paul, Tim Coon, and Seth Johnson to name a few. “It’s not my success; it’s our success. There are people behind me that enables my success and we need to recognize those connections.”

By Kathleen O’Keefe

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