Miller, an animal science senior at Oklahoma State University, won 2018 Overall High Individual Livestock Evaluator at The National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo.,The Fort Worth Stock Show And Rodeo, The Houston Livestock Show And Rodeo, The National Meat Animal Evaluation Contest in Lubbock, Texas, and the The North American Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Ky.
Miller is the most decorated individual in the history of competitive livestock evaluation. His 5-show run led the most successful livestock judging season in OSU history, and the second-most winning team of all-time.
“It’s a feat,” he said. “Livestock came naturally to me just because I grew up around it. But it’s also combination of having coaches that believed in me and were extremely talented, and my family, my community, and a support system that embraced what I was trying to do and pushed me forward.”
“It takes talent like his, drive like his,” said one coach, “and a little bit of luck.”
Miller grew up in Torringington, Wyo., helping with the family businesses: a commercial feedlot, and M Lazy Heart Ranch, a club calf operation with 300 head of Maine Anjou and crossbred cattle. He began competitive judging and showing through 4H and FFA, and M Lazy Heart often hosted collegiate teams on the ranch to practice livestock evaluation.
“From a young age, P.D. was making decisions about which calves he wanted to show,” said judging coach Taylor Frank, “and I think that teaches people a lot about livestock and how they change, important things to look for and what problems are severe. How he was raised, and what he was raised doing, molded him into who he was.”
Miller and his siblings raised and showed sheep, goats, swine and cattle throughout their 4H and FFA careers. M Lazy Heart was the foundation for success in the ring, but it was their parents that influenced their competitive style.
“Our parents were amazing examples for us,” said Miller’s sister, Paige. “They wanted us to be competitive, but they wanted us to be good people. P.D. is both.”
Miller knew he wanted a future in livestock evaluation a 9-years-old. After winning 21 consecutive cattle shows through 4H, he was buried in a class at the Colorado State Fair. That’s when Miller declared his determination to become the best.
“I walked out of the ring and told my parents ‘I want to be the person whose opinions matter in the show ring. Then I want to judge every major steer, heifer and hog show in the country.’ They said, ‘you can do it.’”
“I knew if I wanted to achieve that goal, I had to put my nose to the grindstone,” Miller said. “I had to be on competitive judging teams.”
He got his chance. He won the National FFA livestock judging contest in 2013 and was an All-American at the National 4-H Contest in 2012. His high school successes and a perfect GPA put him in the national spotlight as a top recruit, and not just in the eyes of agriculture. Miller passed on a football scholarship to University of Wyoming and committed to Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas to judge under head coach Arnold and assistant coach Taylor Frank.
Miller would win a national championship at Butler before going to OSU to judge under head coach Dr. Blake Bloomberg, four-time National Collegiate Coaches’ Association Coach of the Year, and assistant coach Kyndal Reitzenstein.
All coaches remember Miller’s outstanding resume secondary to his extraordinary drive.
“That kid wants it more than anybody else out there,” said Frank.
Ask the OSU judging team why Miller is a champion, and you’ll hear an impressive set of reasons. Some say it’s his eye — a unique ability to see livestock, with a perfect balance of objectivity and opinion. Others say it's his natural talent, his intelligence. But no matter who you ask, one word always places at the top of the class: drive.
“He’s a naturally talented stock person. He had the willingness to be the best, a unique talent, with a lot of drive to succeed,” said Dr. Bloomberg. “You could tell that he had the will to win.”
“He had drive, he had a competitive edge,” remembers Reitzenstein. “He had it all.”
Even with a lifetime of livestock knowledge, Miller had to adjust his delivery if he wanted to make history.
“Coming out of high school, I didn’t have the finesse of a lot of other kids,” remembered Miller. “I had to work at it, and get help. Taylor Frank helped me get my reasons polished. Marcus Arnold made me grounded. Kyndal helped me with flow and presentation, getting my words out but reigning back what I said. Blake Bloomberg was an incredible motivator and an awfully impressive stockman.”
Competitive livestock judging only allows two years of eligibility, split between junior and senior college. Between those years, the level of competition accelerates. Presentation becomes more influential in scoring at the senior collegiate level, and the ability to concisely and eloquently defend decisions in the ring separates the competitive from the elite. Brevity, voice quality, and confidence play a larger role. Miller had the latter in spades.
“He doesn’t lack confidence, that’s for sure,” said Arnold.
That confidence was tested on the road to a national championship. Livestock judging is 90 percent mental focus, 5 percent skill and ability, and 5 percent luck, according to Dr. Bloomberg. And luck wasn’t always on Miller’s side.
“I knew I could be the best, and it made me work harder. Once you get the feeling of winning, you never want to let it go,” Miller said. “I compare livestock judging to addictive gambling.”
After a standout, back-to-back senior college debut in Denver and Fort Worth, Miller lost at the 2018 Dixie National in Jackson, Miss. Miller placed 6th high individual, but his scores helped his team win the overall competition.
“Honestly, I thought it was the best thing to happen to him,” said Dr. Bloomberg. “When things are going so smoothly, sometimes a little ripple doesn't hurt. The loss allowed P.D. to refresh, hit the reset button, and remind himself that he’s human.”
Miller agreed, crediting the loss as a defining moment. He said the setback helped him learn how to overcome external chatter and internal pressure. Building that resilience set the stage for winning where it mattered most: Louisville.
“Winning consistently takes a lot of inner thought, and belief in yourself,” Miller said. There’s going to be people who doubt you, who say you can’t do it again. And you have to overcome those fears within yourself.”
“I worked, and wrestled with myself. And I came back to win.”
Miller’s coaches say his outstanding motivation, and laser focus, sets him apart from competitors.
“Some kids can get discouraged, and losing wears on their mental toughness,” said Arnold. “But P.D. had a competitive mental focus that you don't see in a lot of students.”
Frank agreed. “You can put as much pressure on him as you want, and he’ll continue to perform.”
Ask about Miller beyond the ring and you get mixed reactions — snorts, giggles, a grumble or two. But you certainly get a response. His star-quality talent, and courage to face failure, earned Miller a leadership role on livestock teams and the loyalty of friends-turned-family.
“P.D. has a bold personality and a bold spirit,” said Arnold. “He has weaknesses. But he stays open, and willing. And his ability to be open, to be humble, and to work together with his teammates — that’s what makes him a champion.”
Miller’s coaches and teammates remember Miller’s wit, heart, and generosity as two-fold and unconditional.
“Everyone would love to have P.D. on their team,” Frank said. “He has a big heart, and he loves people. He would do anything for anybody. He cares about everybody. If you called him right now because your tire is flat, he wouldn’t ask questions. If you wanted to talk cattle, he’d tell you everything he knows.”
“And he’s a lot of fun to have in the van,” he laughed.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
Miller will graduate from OSU in May 2019. His next chapter is undecided, but like most things to do with Miller, there are plenty of opinions.
“Coaching,” Frank said.
“I think he’ll go back to the family farm,” said Reitzenstein.
Ask Miller and he admits he isn’t sure. He’s still celebrating senior year, and reflecting on an incredible run. He tosses out a couple ideas — pursuing a master’s degree in ruminant nutrition and assistant coaching, or going home to the family business. He likes the idea of coaching and helping kids. He’s a little tired of school, he laughs.
Bloomberg has his own take.
“I don’t know what the future holds for P.D., but I know he’ll have a lot of options to do what he wants. Somebody with his ability and his talents can write their own chapter. If he decides to go back to the family farm, he’ll be successful. If he decides to coach, he’ll have success. He’s the kind of kid, like so many that come through our program, who can write their own history. “
Byline: Jessica Willingham