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11:45 PM   April 27, 2015
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Behind the Scenes: Oxbow Animal Health

The company’s natural nutritional approach has been good for small mammals.
By Lindsay Hanks

When the going gets tough, the tough get inventive. That’s John Miller’s philosophy. The founder and owner of Oxbow Animal Health spent his formative years learning the ins and outs of raising crops and livestock on the Nebraskan farm his family owned dating back to the 1880s. After a brief foray into the world of petroleum engineering in college, he moved back into the farming business and started Oxbow Hay Company in 1980, raising hogs, corn, soybeans and alfalfa. In the early 1990s, he responded to a down agricultural economy by refocusing the company specifically on raising alfalfa as feed for small pet animals. And so the family farm got a facelift.

John Miller, owner, Courtesy of Oxbow Animal Health
“I liked the idea of adding value to the crops I grew,” Miller said of returning to the family business. “That whole mindset has always led me to be innovative to add value to what I’m doing on the farm.”

Nearly two decades later, the company has evolved and narrowed its focus, taking on various names to reflect those business-model changes—transforming over the years into Oxbow Pet Products and settling into its current moniker of Oxbow Animal Health. Miller said he feels the business finally has a name that best defines the company’s mission to provide premium, all-natural products to enhance animal health and to empower its customers with outstanding product education and professional advice.

“What I saw in pet stores in the late 80s was low-quality hay,” Miller said of his decision to specialize in feed for small mammals. “I knew I could do a better job producing that hay.”

It all started with alfalfa, but the company has since expanded its signature line of feed hays to include Orchard Grass Hay, oat hay and bromegrass. But Oxbow’s perhaps best-known as a leader in the market for Timothy Hay products for pocket-pet nutrition, which the company reports being the first to introduce to the pet feed industry and “quickly became an industry standard” for its low-protein, high-fiber content and resultant proper digestive tract functionality.

Today, Oxbow specializes in a variety of products to promote healthful and enjoyable lifestyles for small-mammal pets. The company reports that—from its signature hay and feeds, to its latest treats and housing—everything is grown naturally and without the use of chemicals.

Oxbow Animal Health’s facilities are located in Murdock, Neb. Courtesy of Oxbow Animal Health
Oxbow’s 100-percent USDA-certified Bene Terra line includes Organic Meadow Hay, Organic Barley Biscuits treats, and fortified Organic Rabbit and Organic Guinea Pig Feeds. The Timothy Club line of hay habitats comes in Bungalow, Lounger and Tunnel designs that are all hand-made from the signature high-fiber hay. Because small mammals instinctually chew on their surroundings, the edible habitats are made without any wires or threads to ensure safe snacking.

The Simple Rewards treat line is made of all-natural fruits in strawberry, banana, timothy and veggie flavors. And the two supplements available, Daily C and Papaya Gruit Plus, come in chewable tablets for owners to easily manage their pets’ intake.

“We look for innovative nutritional products not already on the market,” Miller said. New projects are always in the work, as well as research for improvements to products the company already offers.

Miller teamed with veterinarians early-on to consistently seek new ways to provide the best small-mammal food and supplies for customers to provide closest-to-natural lifestyles for their pets. This ongoing dedication to the betterment of life for pocket pets is evident in the company’s strong commitment to providing a variety of organic nutritional sources.

“Since the early days, we marketed 15 to 20 innovative products, which was critical to our rapid growth,” he said, adding that the exotic veterinary community’s support was also key. “They recognized that there was no good core nutrition on the market and became huge supporters and pulled us into this market around the world.”

Miller is proud of his employees’ achievements in advancing Oxbow’s presence in the pet market, saying that the company’s receipt of the 2006 Small Business Administration National Exporter of the Year award was “a huge testimony to their abilities and hard work.” The honor included a trip to the capitol to receive the award and meet the president.


Oxbow Animal Health

Location: Murdock, Neb.

Owner: John Miller

Employees: Undisclosed

Years in Business: 29

Areas of distribution: United States and 26 other countries

Annual Revenues: Undisclosed

Company mission: To provide premium, all-natural products to enhance animals’ health and to enrich their and their caretakers’ lives

Product categories: Premium hay, fortified feeds/nutrition, all-natural treats, supplements, all-natural litter, hay habitats and accessories

Company website:

“To achieve that growth was a real tribute to the people that work out here on a small farm in rural Nebraska,” he said.

Miller said he thinks the current holistic trend has finally caught up to his way of business.

“The surge in ‘natural’ has helped us a lot, but we were doing this long before it became fashionable,” he said. “Alfalfa is great for the soil; it’s a great natural crop, which is the reason we use it.”

Out of an ongoing interest in cultivating good pet owners and healthy pets, the company has developed its Oxbow University to promote proper veterinary and nutritional education to retailers, pet owners and veterinarians.

Looking toward the future in an effort to give back to the veterinary community that has supported its products from the beginning, the company’s Junior Veterinary Camp program invites second-, third- and fourth-graders to four-day camps at a nearby university throughout the summers to learn about exotic-veterinary philosophy and nutrition. After a week of educational fun, the children dress in surgical costumes and perform mock surgeries on stuffed animals. Miller said the program has evolved over the last six or seven years and been very successful; he hopes to expand the camps next year.

“It’s probably going to help plant the seed for future veterinarians, which should be beneficial to Oxbow in the future and help the veterinary trade,” he added.

Oxbow Animal Health specializes in natural small-mammal nutritional products. Courtesy of Oxbow Animal Health
Further philanthropic endeavors include training workshops, professional symposia and a veterinary student Educational Partnership Program. The company’s Rescue Program provides annual grant support to small-mammal organizations seeking medical support, feeding needs, educational programs and building renovations. Most recently, the company established its annual Oxbow Exotic Mammal Health Award, honoring excellence and achievement within the professional community. The award’s inaugural recipient—Dr. Cathy Johnson-Delaney, an avian/exotic animal specialist—received the award at this year’s Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians Conference.

Customers can expect Oxbow to continue to strive for creative and holistic ways to promote small-mammal health, both through its products and its community involvement. One thing’s for certain: Miller still sees an exciting world of possibility ahead, and he’s ready to adapt to the market as needed.

“I’m always in an innovative mindset,” he said. “That’s where I live. Part of my job is to maintain our branding. I’ll continue to stay focused on our mission and help develop what we’re famous for.” <HOME>

Lindsay Hanks is associate editor for Pet Product News International magazine.  

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