North Dakota man works as rancher, taxidermist and bullfighter
MANDAN, N.D. -- Nevada Miller is a rancher. He's a taxidermist. And, for a little longer, he's a rodeo bullfighter, too. "I love animals, and all three (occupations) let me be around them," says Miller, 31. He runs Nevada's Wildlife Designs in Ma...
MANDAN, N.D. - Nevada Miller is a rancher. He’s a taxidermist. And, for a little longer, he’s a rodeo bullfighter, too.
“I love animals, and all three (occupations) let me be around them,” says Miller, 31.
He runs Nevada’s Wildlife Designs in Mandan, N.D., operates 6 Mile Angus in Raleigh, N.D., about 55 miles from Mandan, and fights bulls at rodeos across the region. He’s ending his 13-year rodeo career this fall. Both the ranching and taxidermy businesses are doing well, and Miller says they need more time and effort.
“He’s got a real fire in his belly to keep moving forward in whatever he does,” says his father, Miles Miller, who works with Nevada in both ranching and taxidermy.
Wade Williamson, a retired Parshall, N.D., farmer and rancher, has known Nevada for six years. Williamson, who hunts around the world, is a client of the taxidermy business.
“Anything that Nevada does, he puts a lot of effort into it,” Williamson says. “And he’s such a talented young man, with so much variation in his talents.”
Agricultural economists often talk about the importance of supplementing farm and ranch income with money earned off the farm. Miller could be a poster child for doing so. He’s used his rodeo earnings to buy his cows.
Miller always has been both artistic and entrepreneurial, Miles says.
Nevada “was 10 when he did his first painting. We (his parents) lent him money, and he sold prints (of that painting) when he was 14,” Miles says. “He’s really artistic. He sees stuff nobody else sees.”
The Miller family ran a dairy farm until Nevada was 18, when changing economics in the dairy business pushed the family into beef cattle.
Nevada was also 18 when he began his rodeo career, learning the craft at practice pens in the area. He earned his pro rodeo card in 2004, putting on 78 performances, as he calls them, that year. He’s subsequently performed at both pro rodeo and amateur events.
Rodeo bullfighters are not the matadors who fight bulls in Mexico, Spain and elsewhere. Miller, and others like him, offer protection for cowboys who work in bull riding competitions by distracting the bull and providing an alternative target for it to attack. Sometimes the protectors dress as clowns, sometimes they don’t.
When Miller began bullfighting, his contract sometimes required him to dress up as a clown and have his face painted. But he hasn’t done that for most of his career.
“It’s branched off now,” he says. “A lot of times, the clowns are guys in their 40s and 50s, who are really good at being funny, and the younger guys, who are really good at cowboy protection, specialize in fighting bulls.”
Miller was interested in riding bulls when he was young. But that interest dimmed when he saw up close, as a bullfighter, how difficult and dangerous it is, he says.
Why fight bulls?
“Just the thrill of it,” he says. “The adrenaline rush. And saving cowboys is a great feeling. A lot of these guys are your friends.”
He smiles wryly when asked if he’s ever been injured.
“Minor stuff. Fractured vertebra in my back. Broke my arm, twice. Had a plate screwed in. Minor concussion. Lacerated chin. Bruised and broken ribs. Separated ribs.” He shrugs and adds, “You get beat up pretty good.”
Some rodeo bullfighters continue to perform into their 40s, and Miller says he remains physically capable of fighting bulls. But ranching and taxidermy require more time.
When he was 15, Miller began taking classes from a taxidermist. After finishing high school, Miller worked full-time for the taxidermist for 3½ years, later going into business himself.
His goal in taxidermy is to “recreate the animals, make them what they were like in nature,” he says.
He frequently studies animals and photos of them, helping him to better understand them.
This year, for the first time, he worked on a lion. “I read a lot of books before starting on it,” he says.
Miller says the taxidermy business provides enough income that he could support himself financially from it alone.
The business is growing, in part because North Dakota’s economy is strong.
“It’s the oil economy, the economy overall,” he says. “I’m starting to see a lot of local people. You can see the economy’s effect.”
He’s also benefitting from word-of-mouth advertising, as satisfied clients tell their friends about him. He’s worked on a wide range of animals, including a growing number shot overseas.
His prices vary widely, depending on the piece, as does the length of time required to finish one.
Miller often incorporates his taxidermy business into ranching. For instance, he brings along deer that need mounting when he goes to Raleigh for spring calving.
Much of Miles’ work in the taxidermy business involves preparing the specimens for Nevada’s specialized efforts.
Nevada and Miles work together closely in the ranching operation, too.
Some fathers and sons, even ones who love and respect each other, might struggle to make such a relationship work.
Miles Miller laughs when asked about working so closely with his son.
“We’re too busy to argue,” he says. Then he adds, more seriously, “We communicate. We stay open to new ideas and go on from there.”
Nevada, using his rodeo earnings, bought 10 purebred Black Angus in 2007. He’s expanded since then, and now has 45 cows in his cow-calf operation.
He also sells by private treaty and at Midland Bull Test, which bills itself as “America’s leading source of performance tested bulls.”
In a private treaty sale, buyers and sellers negotiate directly.
The Millers stress quality over quantity in their operation, using both artificial insemination and embryo transplants.
“We try to be progressive with the cows,” Miles says.
The Millers are now transplanting embryos from a few of their own cows into other cows in their herd. The process involves “flushing” embryos from a “donor” cow and transplanting them into “receipt” cows.
“It’s kind of costly,” Miles says. “You need a super good cow to go through the process.”
Wade Williamson, the retired farmer and rancher, says, “Nevada is really sophisticated in his ranching.”
Nevada says he doesn’t earn enough money from cattle to support himself. He’s interested in expanding his cattle operation, but says finding additional land to do it is difficult.
Even if he could expand, he wants to stay involved in taxidermy.
Neighbors have asked why he needs to have cows when he has the taxidermy business.
“I just laugh and say, ‘Hey, I like animals in general,’” he says.
Miller’s diverse career has at least one more thing in common, too.
“I’ve always tried to focus on quality, whether it’s cattle or fighting bulls or taxidermy,” he says. “Quality takes a little longer, but I’ve found it pays off in the long run.”