Good kids and cattle are the Eyre Ranchâ€™s main cropsWritten by Jennifer Womack
“We have some very nice children and I attribute it to having to work and be responsible at a very young age,” says Cheryl.
While the high school sweethearts left Lyman to attend junior college in Sheridan, followed by additional college time in Utah, the community was always their home.
“We couldn’t wait to get back,” says John. While his dad encouraged him to pursue interests other than agriculture, ranching was what John truly wanted to spend his life doing. “We’ve been here ever since,” says John.
The Eyre family arrived in the Bridger Valley shortly after the turn of the last century. Originally settling in Minersville, Utah, John says they decided to move. “Minersville makes Shoshoni look like the Garden of Eden,” laughs John. “Minersville was a hard place to make a living. When they opened up the military reserve around Fort Bridger to homesteading, several families moved here from there and homesteaded around Lyman.”
John’s grandfather homesteaded on the outskirts of Lyman. “My father and uncle eventually bought that homestead and added to it. They were partners all through the Depression and clear into the 1950s. They just kept expanding and working out. My dad had to go to the coal mines at Cumberland during the Depression to make ends meet.”
The Depression was particularly hard on John’s parents, Lelan and Laura Eyre. John says it was during that time that the government came to the ranch, purchased the cattle for $6 a head and shot and buried them.
With perseverance, like others from their generation, Lelan and Laura moved forward in their quest to grow the family ranch. “They added a little more here and there,” says John from his home just north of Interstate 80 near Lyman. “In the 1940s they bought this ranch here.”
“My siblings are older than me by quite a ways,” he says. “I was sort of the tail end child. Dad decided to quit ranching in the 1970s.” At that time the ranch was divided between John, his brother and a sister. “They ranched for a while and eventually I bought all of the ranch back and that’s where we’re at today.” In addition to ranching, John spent some time building houses and working as a janitor at the local schools to make ends meet. For over 20 years Cheryl has been part of the local ambulance crew. “We finally got enough of the ranch built up to make it work,” says John.
John and Cheryl’s son Spencer and his family, including two high school age boys who work on the ranch, came back to the Eyres family ranch. “Our other boy is a contractor,” says John. “We have two daughters. One lives in LaBarge on the Sims Ranch. We have another daughter in Jerome, Idaho where her husband manages a large dairy there.”
“We’re just a cow-calf operation and we raise a few yearlings, but mostly just a cow-calf operation,” says John. “We have a few Columbia sheep, but not very many.” The cattle winter at the home place and spend the summer grazing in the mountains of Utah that flank southern Uinta County.
“There are quite a few families of Eyres here,” says John, “so we market our calves together under the heading of Eyres Ranch. My cousin that has the homestead still raises cattle and my nephew has a small ranch west of us. By marketing our calves that way we can sell about 1,000 calves and sort them up by weight.”
The calves sell on the video, an approach John likes. “If you don’t like what you get your calves are still at home,” he says. “We run mostly Angus cross cattle. We use some composites.”
Summertime is filled with haying. “You have to have hay in this country,” says John.
In 1994, a series of events landed John in the Wyoming Legislature. It wasn’t a course he planned to take in life, but one he says he enjoyed.
“I’d never been involved in politics,” he recalls. “I was involved with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and served as President.” Before his involvement with WSGA, he says he’d never been inside the Wyoming Capitol. Testifying before the Agriculture Committee as WSGA’s President, John says there was one legislator who was giving him fits. Little did he know, following a recent redistricting that lumped Lyman with Sweetwater County, that the troublesome individual was his own state representative.
“When he came up for election he was running unopposed,” says John of the Democrat. “I said I’m going to give the people a choice. I didn’t know anything about it, but he was not getting a free ride.”
A registered Republican, John entered the race. Early on election night it appeared his opponent was going to win. John laughs when he recalls the guy on the radio saying, “The only thing I’ve heard the other candidate say is, ‘I’m running to give the people a choice.’” When the votes were all counted, the rural residents of Lyman and Farson had swung the vote and John was southwest Wyoming’s newest legislator.
“It was a fun experience,” recalls John. “I had a lot to learn, but every day during the session you get locked in a room with 60 people. You can go, but every day you’re in that room with 60 people of varying opinions. You come to appreciate Wyoming’s legislative process. It’s just a citizen legislature. You don’t’ agree with everybody, but they’re just down there doing their duty for the state.”
Serving in the House from 1995 to 2002, John says, “The farther you get into the legislative process the more demanding it becomes of your time. It took a lot of time away from the ranch.” John returned his focus to Lyman and his family.
“We just ranch around our 16 grandchildren’s activities,” he says. “We have to work so we have enough money to go and see what they’re doing.” Some of the grandkids play sports in Big Piney. Of the old Lyman rival, he laughs, “It’s kind of tough to have to go root for Big Piney, but you find that you can do it.”
The challenges of ranching, although less harsh, didn’t end with John’s parents’ generation. He and Cheryl wonder about their own ability to pass on the family ranch in an economically feasible manner.
“You just cannot leave it to your children anymore,” says Cheryl. “They can’t afford to buy it and you can’t afford to give it away.” Health insurance, she says, is among the larger of the difficulties facing Wyoming ranch families.
“A lot of big ranches, and maybe all the good ranches, are being bought up by money America,” says John.
“It’s gotten tougher,” says John. “Maybe it’s always been the problem, but expenses seem to outpace your income.” In country where hay is a “must have,” spikes like $4.50 a gallon diesel really hurt.
“It was costing $25,000 a year to run one diesel-powered center pivot,” he says. They have since converted the pivot to electricity.
For now John and Cheryl enjoy seeing their young grandsons learn all the ranch has to offer in the way of life lessons. “They’re here, they work and they’re good young men,” says John. “It fits what we want to do. They love their 4-H involvement, they raise their own steers and they’re in sports. It’s just a great lifestyle. If we don’t get rich, that’s okay. We weren’t planning on it when we started.”
“We have a good life and a nice little cottage for a home,” says John. “We just find this to be a great place to raise a family. We enjoy living there. We haven’t tried to set the world on fire. We’ve just ranched so we can eat and spend time with our family.”