Canadian-American who was a noted breeder that became one of the first to market corn-fed Angus beef to Chicago meat packers.
1834-1905 | Artist: Robert Wadsworth Grafton (1876-1936)
Impact & Accomplishments
The Millers were pioneers of the Canadian livestock industry, and their efforts to import, breed, and promote Shorthorn cattle, Clydesdale horses, Berkshire and Yorkshire hogs, and Cotswold, Leicester, and Shropshire sheep had a tremendous impact on herds and flocks throughout North America.
Brothers John and William Miller were born in Dumfrieshire, Scotland. Their portraits are grouped in the same frame. In 1835, John immigrated to what would become Ontario, Canada, looking for greater opportunity. At first, he imported sheep and hogs for his uncle, George. John saved to purchase Thistle Ha’, a Pickering Township farm in great need of improvement, in 1839. He imported Shorthorn cattle from Kentucky a decade later—good milking cows—but recognized that his land (and that of the Midwest United States) had tremendous beef-producing potential, so he set out to adapt his Booth-bred cattle as a beefier and easier feeding type. Importations from Amos Cruikshank’s herd helped Thistle Ha’ achieve this goal and become legendary. Today, the farm is a National Historic Site of Canada.
John’s much younger brother, William, immigrated to Canada with his parents as a young child in 1838. He worked the family’s Atha farm, building a renowned Shorthorn herd with his father. William made his first livestock buying trip to Britain in 1854, when he was twenty years old, and bought Rob Roy, a Clydesdale that would become Thistle Ha’s most famous stallion. The Millers were concerned that offspring of animals they sold to Americans were consistently more successful than their own stock at the International Live Stock Exposition and at the Canadian National, so in 1886, William accepted a position to manage Luther Adams’s herd at Lakeside Farm, in Storm Lake, Iowa, where he could learn about corn feeding. After just two years of importations, William had elevated Lakeside to one of the finest stock farms in America. William took over ownership of Lakeside in 1898 and shifted gears, becoming one of the first to market corn-fed Angus beef to Chicago meat packers.
The firm of John Miller & Sons—with John’s sons John, Jr., and Robert—became one of the most successful livestock operations on the continent. Robert, who was the firm’s chief salesman and promoter, was the first president of the Canadian Sheep Breeders’ Association, president of the Shorthorn Breeders Association (1901-1902), chairman of the Canadian National Livestock Records Board (1922-1924), president of the Canadian National Exhibition (1925-1926), and director of the International in Chicago. Robert Miller was also a leader of the Toronto Industrial Exhibition and the Royal Winter Fair. In great demand in the show ring, he was sent to Argentina to judge at Palermo in 1923. He established his own farm, Burn Brae, in Stouffville, Ontario. Robert married Frank W. Harding’s sister, linking two Saddle & Sirloin Club legacy families by marriage. In 1980, Robert Miller was inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Did You Know?
In the 1894 Christmas edition of The Breeder’s Gazette, William Miller Jr/Atha entertained readers with the tale of his first livestock buying trip to Britain during the winter and spring of 1854, when he was 20 years old. It was during this trip that he bought Thistle Ha’s most famous stallion, Rob Roy (pictured).