MEEKER I It’s all about the dogs—working border collies that is—in Meeker. From June 15-19, 140 of North America’s best working cattledogs will gather to match themselves against each other, 200 yearling cows and Meeker’s famous trial field as they compete for a national title.
This trial represents the culmination of a year’s worth of qualifying trials as these dogs and their handlers travel from 19 states and provinces in Canada to compete at the National Cattledog Association (NCA) National Finals in Meeker.
When Juan Reyes steps out on the cattledog trial field in Meeker in June, he brings a mindset that embraces a philosophy of low-stress cattle handling. Employing what he’s learned from watching his border collies over the years, this Cuban immigrant represents an American success story and bears witness to the cattleman’s role in promoting stewardship of livestock and resources. A founding member of the National Cattledog Association, Juan will compete with three dogs in Meeker.
The 2016 NCA National Finals will showcase North America’s finest cattledogs and their handlers competing in five different classes on two fields for five days.
Preferring to work with dogs, Juan speaks of his border collies as his working partners on the ranch and in his feedlot. Finding it less complicated and more efficient to work with cattledogs, Juan breeds and trains his dogs to meet the demands of his livestock operation. Low-stress, humane livestock management is practical, economical and a necessary part of animal husbandry—and puts one’s best foot forward with public perception.
Juan’s story began in 1962, when, as an 11-year-old with his two older sisters, he arrived at a Cuban refugee camp in Florida. A single suitcase to his name, knowing no English and lonely for his parents that were unable to leave Cuba, Juan and his sisters endured horrible living conditions until they were moved with 70 other children to St. John’s Academy of the Catholic Church in Colfax, Wash.
Life improved for the Reyes children as they adapted to the American culture, learned to speak English and three years later were joined by their parents. Owners of a nearby farm, Roy and Carol McDonald, welcomed young Juan into their lives and ultimately gave his father a job. It was there his love of agriculture and livestock was born and ultimately charted Juan’s destiny.
Having been graduated from Colfax High School, Juan attended Eastern Washington State for a year. While helping a friend move to the University of Wyoming, Juan fell in love with the Cowboy State, and has been there ever since.
Upon getting his degree from the University of Wyoming, Juan worked construction, railroad, guiding and cowboy jobs. He married college sweetheart Joni Sharp in 1977, starting their agricultural enterprise with 20 mixed cows and 12 purebred black angus of Joni’s.
Those angus cows are the foundation of the 1,200-head cow herd they own today.
The MR Angus Ranch was initiated as a partnership with friends in 1978. Juan and Joni eventually bought out the partnership in the 1980s and continued to grow and build their agricultural operation. Today, the MR Angus Ranch runs 1,200 registered angus cows, operates an intensive farming and irrigation system, a 7,000-head feedlot, 1,200 yearlings and sells roughly 300 Angus bulls annually.
Over the years, Juan was continually searching for an easier, simpler way to work livestock.
“It was too stressful for man and the livestock” Juan said as he reflected on the earlier days. He and a friend went to Canada and spent four days with Bud Williams, a well-known cattle-handling expert from Alberta, Canada, where he, for many years, has practiced and taught low stress methods for moving and managing cattle. A comment that Williams made stuck with Juan—that much of what he knows he had learned from a border collie.
It so happened that Juan had been given a border collie (Griz). Admittedly not knowing anything about dogs, Juan began to watch Griz, how he naturally and easily gathered stock. Together they formed an understanding and relationship, Juan learning the instinctive working ways of the border collie and Griz figuring out what Juan wanted done. They sorted cattle in feedlots, pulled sick ones quietly from the pens and managed the cows on the range. Livestock handling on the MR Ranch became more efficient and less stressful.
Around this time, Juan met well-respected stockdog breeders and trainers Jim Chant of Wyoming and Red Oliver of Texas, both of whom had a big impact on Juan and his work with the border collies. They soon became Juan’s mentors and friends.
Through Red and Jim, Juan entered and won his first cattledog trial in Fort Collins, Colo.
Juan breeds most of his own dogs, searching out new bloodlines and watching other dogs at trials. Most of his females go back to his original Griz dog that was out of Wisp, a Scottish import.
His Red dog is another strong bloodline that “perpetuates his genes better than any dog I’ve owned,” says Juan of the great dog he got from Red Oliver.
Juan typically will send his young dogs out to be started by other trainers and let them have 30 to 40. From there, he takes the dogs back, training them on the ranch, learning and developing as they work. Getting the job done on the ranch takes priority over winning a trial, and Juan wants it this way.
These dogs need to be able to gather cattle from long distances and, under Juan’s direction, work them through the rugged Wyoming terrain. The dogs also must be adept at helping Juan work and sort cattle through various feedlot situations.
He usually has eight good working dogs ready to go on the ranch at all times, typically using four at once, depending on the job.
Juan’s contributions to the cattledog industry go farther than producing good dogs. Using his dogs to demonstrate efficient, low-stress livestock handling, Juan gives seminars and demonstrations around the country.
He and Jim Chant put together the Wyoming Cattledog Trial Series and ran the National Western Stockshow Cattledog Trial and Sale. Following Jim’s death, Juan, along with fellow handlers Bob Wagner, Jeff Mundorf, Jimmy Walker and Tim Gifford founded the National Cattledog Association.
The organization was founded in part to help educate ranchers and livestock producers as to the value of well-trained cattledogs for humane, low-stress cattle handling.
Juan served as president for two years and was instrumental in bringing the NCA National Cattledog Finals to Colorado. He’s now stepped back to let others take the lead and lends his support to the organization in other ways.
For Juan it is all about what you can accomplish on the ranch with these dogs. Stressing stockmanship and safety for man and the livestock, he uses the responsible intelligent border collie to get the job done. They’ve worked for him in close quarters and out on the range and fit his needs on the ranch. Partners of sorts, the collies help the Reyes family manage livestock operations of a feedlot and registered angus business that markets rugged angus cattle that are genetically equipped to thrive in severe weather and high altitudes.
A testimony to the opportunities this country offers, Juan smiles when he says, “My success is due to the United States of America and its forefathers, who created a country and government that people like me and others can succeed.”
You can watch Reyes and other handlers compete in Meeker from June 15-19 at the Meeker Classic NCA National Cattledog Finals. Set on the Ute Park trial field that’s hosted the Meeker Classic Sheepdog Trials for 30 years, this competition offers a unique opportunity to see North America’s finest cattledogs compete for the national title in open, nursery, intermediate, intermediate horseback and open horseback classes.
Each dog will have two preliminary runs in which they can qualify for the final round of the competition.
Coming together to help mark this occasion is a group of fantastic vendors, skilled demonstrators and artisans who will offer food, wares and entertainment for all.
More information can be found by calling 970-878-0111 or 970-878-5510 or visiting www.meekercattledog.com.