Mary and David Miller raise lambs and livestock guard dogs on their ranch in Crowley County — and they've been honored for their efforts.
They started their own business, Triple M Bar Ranch, in 1994. In 2011, the couple's lamb meat got accepted into various farmer's markets in Boulder County. Come 2019, the Millers were acknowledged for their hard work and contribution to the state agriculture industry by being made honorees in the second annual Who's Who in Colorado Agriculture, sponsored by the Denver Business Journal.
Who's Who in Colorado Agriculture is a new program that aims to "highlight excellent leaders within the agriculture industry, whose position, knowledge or expertise helps guide the sector in Colorado," according to the Colorado Farm Bureau's website.
The Millers worked for the government before their lamb-ranching really took off. Mary Miller was an area information specialist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service out of La Junta. And David Miller was the district conservationist, also for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, in Rocky Ford.
When their lamb meat started to be accepted into more markets along the Front Range, Mary Miller left the agency where she'd spent 20 years. The next year, she said, her husband retired as well.
Now the couple dedicate their time to raising sheep and the Great Pyrenees livestock guard dogs that protect them.
Many of the pens across their ranch on Buckeye Hill, save for an old hog pen that's now occupied by their flocks' male rams, were built by the Millers.
The Triple M Bar Ranch rests on a high hill overlooking the Arkansas River and, beyond that, the town of Manzanola and the plains of Southeastern Colorado. Their sheep graze on the prairie weeds and grasses and explore the steep bluffs across the ranch, all while the Great Pyrenees guard dogs keep watch.
"I always tell people we have the most beautiful view in the valley," said Mary Miller. "On a clear day, you can see the Spanish Peaks, the Wet Mountains, the river valley."
The Millers' main flock consists of Warhill, a breed of sheep with iconic fluffy, white wool. They also rear Katahdin sheep, a breed that grows hair as opposed to wool, because David Miller likes them, his wife said.
"Depending upon how it's born, most everything goes into the meat business," Mary Miller said. "Some of the girls are replacement ewe lambs. It kind of depends upon who their sire is, what they're used for."
The Millers breed their sheep specifically to sell the meat. At 8-10 months old, the lambs are sent off for processing and the couple take the meat to the Front Range, where they sell it for retail value.
Mary Miller told the Ag Journal that she's amassed an online following thanks to her marketing efforts. She said that while at markets, she often meets fans of the Triple M Bar Ranch who travel specifically to buy the ranch's lamb. Their following adores the ranch's lambs, whom Mary Miller often captures on video to share on social media or on their website.
"I take pictures and I tell (our fans) what's happening on the ranch," she said. "They love seeing pictures of the lambing barn, the dogs, the sheep. And it teaches them what life and agriculture's all about.
"... Not only being acknowledged for this Who's Who in Colorado Ag — but also when you have a customer come up into the booth and say, 'Thank you for what you do, we know you work hard.' — that is them acknowledging that they know that selling the meat is the glamorous part of the job."
Fans enjoy watching videos of the lambs feasting on cantaloupe, watermelon and onion obtained by local Rocky Ford farm markets.
"During the fall harvest when they do the Rocky Ford cantaloupe and all, we have at least one or two trucks over at Hirakata's, and then a truck over at O'Neil's, so we get the cantaloupe, melons, pumpkins, onions and that, and we feed that to the sheep, also," said Mary Miller. "It gives our lamb a very unique, mild flavor.
"The worst thing is working them after they've eaten onions."
"That's true," said David Miller. "They're just like humans; they have that onion breath.And when you're 2 inches away from them, it sets you back for a minute or two."
But the Millers and their flocks aren't just known for cute, fluffy animal antics, although the Great Pyrenees dogs may contribute to the cuteness factor. The Millers also are well known for their all-natural sheep-rearing and clean, mild-tasting meat.
Mary Miller said they often are sought by customers looking for what she calls "clean" meat — healthy meat untainted by antibiotics or growth hormones.
David Miller summed the concept up succinctly: "How is the animal raised? What is it fed? And how is it handled?"
"... Everybody got into the organic end, but it's very difficult to do organic and be truthful about it because there's very little organic feed raised," said David Miller. "Naturally raised is that you try to raise them as they would in the wild, or not feed-lotted, I guess is how I would go about it. They're not raised that way."
"We have a lot of customers that have medical conditions," said Mary Miller. "I had one little gal come in and she bought bones for bone broth last week. She has some kind of an allergy, a violent reaction if she doesn't eat clean food. There's something wrong with her autoimmune system.
"And we have a lot of customers like that, that rely on us because our meat is clean. We have tons of people that come and buy the organ meat. A lot of people that are vegetarians, vegans or whatever. They're low on iron, protein and the doctor says find lamb liver, it is very, very mild. ..."
The Millers are also known for their flock's tendency to produce twins and triplets.
"We run around 250 percent lamb crop. A lot of triplets, occasionally quads. I think we had one set of quads this year," said David Miller.
The Great Pyrenees livestock guard dogs that roam the Triple M Bar Ranch are bought by the Millers when they're no more than 8 weeks old, David Miller said. Their primary duty is to protect the sheep as they graze and go about their days.
The guard dogs spend most of their lives with their flocks. They sleep with the sheep and they travel with the flocks as they move from pasture to pasture, ever-vigilant of predators such as coyotes, foxes, bobcats and even an occasional mountain lion roaming the river valley below Buckeye Hill.
Raising the Great Pyrenees, along with a Pyranees-Kangal hybrid, is mostly hands off, said David Miller.
"We just let them stay with the flock and we feed them. A lot of people who use these dogs sometimes won't handle them at all. But they need aid, we've got to get them shots," David Miller said.
"But we've found no problem having dogs that can handle and take care of the sheep. They know what their main job is. They like to say 'Hi' to us, and just like these here, they're all wandering off, going with the sheep, even though we're here."
On becoming honorees for Who's Who of Colorado Agriculture, Mary Miller said, "It makes those late nights where I'm holding an ewe and David's struggling to figure out what the heck's going wrong, and it's a hard birth and you're exhausted, it makes those nights OK.
"Because somebody's going, 'You know, we know you work hard and that.' I guess just being recognized for something that we've built from scratch, it's pretty neat."