Cattle Journal 2023: Reyes/Russell Partnership—Angus, Wyoming/Colorado
March 3, 1992. This was the day the Reyes and Russell families had their first bull sale together.
“It’s probably one of the longest partnerships in the industry in this area,” said Juan Reyes of M.R. Angus in Wheatland, Wyoming.
“We didn’t even know if anyone would come to the sale that first year,” said Keith Russell of KMR Angus near Johnstown, Colorado. “But we sold every bull. It’s not only been a good partnership but a good friendship.”
February 27, 2023, will be the 32nd year of the Reyes/Russell annual sale. Reyes and Russell first met through Reyes’ wife, Joni, who was from the Greeley, Colorado, area, and friends with the Russell family.
“Neither of us thought we were big enough to have a sale on our own, but we both talked the same language,” Russell said. “I’m quality oriented — the same as the Reyes family.”
The two families have common goals and high expectations for their cow herds.
“We had the same ideas on what we wanted and some of the same goals in mind — how practical cows should be,” Reyes said. “Keith is one of my mentors and very knowledgeable. He made a comment once that someday we ought to have a sale together.”
Russell said that it was a bit spur of the moment when they first started the sale and a big undertaking.
“We only had two ringman when we started, Ted Thomas who has since passed away, and Jim Gies, who is still a ringman today,” Russell said. “Another thing we started is that we were the first in our area to sell all PAP tested bulls.”
They both credit the sale’s long-standing success to commercial cattlemen, and their hardworking family operations, KMR Angus and M.R. Angus, behind it.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be a cowboy and live in Colorado, for some reason,” Russell said.
Russell was born and raised in Illinois on a farm that included registered and commercial Hereford cattle and a small feedlot. He worked for a few other operations as well in Illinois, including for Odell Gelvin, who he still visits with and credits as a mentor today. Russell gradually worked toward Colorado and has been here since the early 1960s.
“I’ve lived in about four or five different places in Colorado and worked for few different operations as I got started here,” he said. “I’ve worked with about seven different breeds of cattle, but mostly Hereford and Angus and, in the long run, mostly registered and commercial Angus. As I got started, I always tried to work with progressive operations. I did not go to college so these important experiences and learning from producers hands-on is what I really considered my education.”
He started with some registered Angus cows in the early 1970s and bought his current operation in Johnstown in 1988.
“I never had the desire to have a big operation,” Russell said. “But I’m competitive. Building a quality cowherd is still, and always has been, my top goal. Small operators can be successful, but you must have quality if you’re going to stay fairly small.”
Russell and his wife, Mernie, are part of KMR Angus today. Son, Randy, works in Johnstown, and Randy and his wife, will take over the operation once Russell retires.
“Mernie and I were both married and lost our spouses, but I think the wife is very important to any successful operation,” Russell said. “It’s a team and you must be on the same page as much as possible.”
These goals, experiences and philosophies have worked well for his operation and the success of the Reyes/Russell sale. The operation has always remained middle of the road on size and EPDs.
“We have never chased extremes,” Russell said. “I look forward to every calf crop. I’ve probably wasted my life thinking about the next calf crop, but it keeps me enthused and gives me a reason to get up in the morning and a goal to go to work. Retirement is not in my vocabulary, but I am starting to slow down a little.”
He said that he’s never really had a day in his life when he dreads going out to work.
“I guess I might be a little stubborn in that area sometimes,” Russell said. “But I enjoy the people, the ranchers and the country people. It’s the friends you make over the years that have made this so rewarding. I hope I’ve been able to mentor a few younger generations along the way.”
M.R. Angus Ranch
With 12 head of registered Angus cows, Reyes and his wife, Joni, founded M.R. Angus Ranch in Tie Siding, Wyoming, in 1977. It’s been evolving and growing ever since. Ranching in the high altitude means they needed to produce cattle that would thrive in mountain country. M.R. Angus bulls are raised and developed in a realistic range environment. They summer at Tie Siding and are PAP tested there at the end of September before they return to Wheatland, Wyoming.
“We strive for practical cattle that can work in any environment,” Reyes said. “We really don’t follow the numbers too much. We keep an eye on them, but we’ve found over the years that numbers don’t add up for a lot of cattle.”
In addition to the registered herd, the Reyes family also runs a background lot, which means they feed cattle for some of their customers. This has allowed them to follow the genetic program.
“We can see the good and the bad and then we can work to try to keep the good going,” Reyes said.
The Reyes family is all involved in the diverse operation today. Juan and Joni’s son, Jason Reyes, and his wife, Sarah, primarily manage all aspects of the cattle — from calving to herd health to pasture management — across four different summer ranches in Wyoming. Their daughter, Jen, plays a major role in running the annual bull sale, billing, works on cattle records and feedlot health as well as helps with farming all summer long. Her husband, Australian native Mick Burr, oversees all the farming, irrigating, mechanics and feeding during the winter months. Everyone in the family is very versatile and helps each other out with whatever is needed most. Reyes also hopes the grandkids step in and want to be part of the operation in the future.
“My life dream was to own a ranch,” Reyes said. “You hear that if you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life, and that’s how I feel about ranching.”
In addition to cattle and crops, the operation also includes several border collie dogs. Reyes is one of the founding members of the National Cattledog Association. He said that he fell in love with the breed while traveling near Laramie when he met Jim Chant, who was working with them. Reyes ended up buying some of his dogs.
“I always tell people that working with border collies is the best-kept secret in production agriculture,” Reyes said. “We use them every day. They’re very intelligent and they’ll do anything for you if they are trained to understand what you’re asking them to do. I feel like the cattle respond to and respect them and it’s a humane way of working with stock. I’ve got a long list of people who would like to own some of our dogs, and it’s turned into a business here as well.”
Whether in cattle or dogs, the family program and hard work continues to provide high-quality genetics, so this is one thing that Reyes defines as success.
“But success isn’t about us,” he said. “It’s beyond that. It’s our customers and our friends that benefit from it. That’s where I see the success and where we’d always like to keep it.”