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Purebreds and Percherons | October 2022

by Cheryl Kepes

Photos courtesy Roy Miller

Roy Miller balances management of popular purebred cattle and draft horse operations.

Roy Miller landed his dream job in the fall of 2009 at Summit Farms in Hubbard, Iowa. After working for years in the agriculture industry, his boyhood aspirations of managing a show horse operation had come true. Though he didn’t know it at the time, this new opportunity would also lead him to a greater love for cattle and to the love of his life. In July of 2021, Roy married the woman of his dreams, Rita Mae.

Dream Job

Originally, Roy joined Summit Farms to care for and train the operation’s Percheron draft horses. Less than two years into his new position, Summit Farms’ owner asked Roy to also manage the purebred cow herds. Roy had been working with draft horses since childhood, but he had only a touch of experience in the cattle industry. However, his life experiences had prepared him for most anything. “I grew up in an Amish family in Ohio doing everything from milking dairy cows to cutting wood,” Roy Miller shared.

First Impressions

Summit Farms encompasses 600 acres of farmland. The land is divided into 11 different farms that all possess scenic views of lush landscapes that create a colorful medley of trees, flowers, and ponds. “I tell people they really have to come here and see the farm to appreciate and understand the beauty of it,” Roy said. “Pictures don’t do it justice.”

In addition to managing the cattle and horse operations, Roy works to ensure the properties are mowed and manicured. The owner of Summit Farms, Bruce Rastetter, finds value in a well-presented operation. “He (Bruce Rastetter) has such a gifted eye. Everything is laid out so nicely. His thought is that your first impression matters to customers,” Roy explained.

Piece of the Puzzle

The purebred cattle operation, owned by Summit Farms, serves as a small piece in a giant puzzle. Summit Agricultural Group, an agribusiness and investment firm, operates two branches: Summit Farms and Summit Agricultural Investors. The investment branch discovers, purchases, and manages agricultural investments for stakeholders.

On the other hand, Summit Farms collaborates with farmers in North and South America on a variety of agriculture related businesses. Summit Farms started 30 years ago as a 300-acre corn and soybean farm in Iowa. Today Summit Farms works with producers to farm more than 14,000 acres of corn and soybeans, owns hog buildings in partnership with producers to raise 800,000 hogs a year, and collaborates with cattle producers to develop commercial beef. In addition, Summit Farms owns the purebred cattle and Percheron draft horse operations in Hubbard, Iowa.

Purebred Cattle Herds

Summit Farms’ purebred cattle operation is comprised of Charolais, Angus, Simmental, and Red Angus. The operation also maintains a herd of SimAngus cattle. Summit Farms has raised purebred, registered Charolais longer than any of its other breeds. The farm started the Charolais herd in the early 2000s. Through the years, Summit Farms’ Charolais genetics have excelled and are desired by many breeders in the industry. The operation has raised Charolais national champion females and bulls.

All the cattle in the purebred herds are registered and bred via artificial insemination (AI), before being exposed to a herd sire. When selecting AI or herd sires, Roy evaluates the bull’s EPDs. “We try to keep to the basics when selecting sires. A lot of people want to go to the extreme,” Roy said. “We want something more moderate with a birthweight in the top 10 percent and that is high in growth.”

The bull’s pedigree also plays an important factor in whether he is chosen to be used at Summit Farms. The potential AI or herd sire must have a pedigree that is recognizable and appealing to Summit Farms’ commercial and seedstock customers.

Calving Season

Summit Farms manages close to 40 Charolais, 80 Angus, 40 Red Angus, and 140 Simmental and SimAngus. The herds all calve in late winter or early spring. The first calves hit the ground in late January and the last calves are born by the first of April. This calving window works for Summit Farms to get an age advantage on bulls that are sold the following spring.

The calving time frame also ensures the calves are born before spring rains create muddy conditions at the farms. “I can handle cold weather much better than I can take all the mud,” Roy said with a chuckle.

Herd Diversity

Summit Farms started its purebred operation with Charolais cattle, then added Angus, Simmental and Red Angus. The operation purchased Simmental in 2016 and Red Angus in 2017 with the goal of further diversifying its genetics. “The big thing was our bull market; for example, black cattle are popular in Iowa. In order to have more diversity and different genetics available for our customers, we added a few other cattle breeds,” Roy explained.

Raising Replacements

When striving to improve its genetic base, Summit Farms looks within its own herd. Other than occasionally purchasing a handful of purebred Charolais heifers, Summit Farms raises its own replacement females.

Roy picks his best cows from each breed to serve as donors for the farm’s embryo transplant program. In an effort to build up its female herd, 95 percent of the embryos are heifer sexed. Each year Summit Farms raises around 40 embryo calves.

The operation utilizes later calving cows from the purebred herds as its recipient cows. After the embryo is implanted, the cow is turned out with a registered, purebred bull. “If we do that, we still have a registered calf if the embryo pregnancy fails. That way you don’t lose a lot of value in the calf and don’t have money tied up in commercial recip cows,” Roy stated.

Bull Business

Summit Farms has built a loyal base of bull buyers. Each spring the operation sells 75 to 85 bulls ranging in age from 12 to 16 months. A few of Summit Farms’ bulls are sold each year at the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association Performance Bull Sale. But a vast majority of Summit Farms’ customers visit the farm to select and purchase herd bulls.

Private Treaty

Most all of Summit Farms’ bulls and females are sold via private treaty. Roy has spent his tenure at the operation building a large battery of repeat customers. Each year a few new buyers come to the farm looking for show calves, bred heifers, cows, or herd bulls. The operation sells close to a hundred heifers and cows each year.

Roy enjoys selling direct to customers off the farm. The face-to-face interaction allows him to learn more about his customers and discover what they are looking for to improve their cattle operation. “I get to know people when we sell via private treaty. Part of the beauty in that is making connections and getting to know what people want for their herds,” Roy explained. Building the relationships and friendships with customers, helps guide Roy when he considers genetic selections and matings for Summit Farms’ herds.

Draft Horses

Roy’s plate is full enough managing the purebred cattle operation and keeping the grounds manicured. But he always finds time to pour into the operation that brought him to Summit Farms in the first place. Summit Farms has earned a name for itself in the Percheron draft horse industry. Through the years the operation has raised and trained national champion hitch horses.

Currently the operation manages 26 Percherons, including 10 mares and two stallions. Each year the operation raises six to nine foals. The foals are the offspring of some of the most sought-after bloodlines in the business. The Percherons born at Summit Farms will one day take to the show ring in four or six horse hitch competitions. Roy trains the horses, driving the 2-year-olds four to five days a week to build up their muscles for the hitch competitions.

This month marks Roy’s thirteenth year at Summit Farms. In that time, he’s built a network of lifelong friendships and happily settled into life in the picturesque Iowa farmland.

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