Colorado's Vanishing Ranchers

The annual sheepdog trials in Meeker, Colo., is a competition that attracts handlers and their border collies from all across North America. The goal: to see who's best at moving five ornery sheep in the shortest time.

And as CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Jerry Bowen reports, the Meeker Classic is the brainchild of one Gus Halandras. And it has not only served to pump up the local economy, but it celebrates what's turning out to be a vanishing way of life.
"We have 12 minutes, an established field, gates in place, five sheep, a dog and a person on a prescribed course. And that's the point," Halandras explains of the Meeker sheepdog trials.

Yet, the life of a sheep rancher is not what it used to be. Out in the morning chill, he helps his neighbors move a herd down the loading chute. ItÂ's an annual ritual of separating the young lambs going to market from the mothers going back to the range to produce more lambs next spring.

ItÂ's hard work, but hardly worth it anymore, according to HalandrasÂ' friend Tom Theos, 80, and a lifelong sheep rancher.

"We've been in this business 75 years, but this is the worst I've ever seen it," Theos says.

And Halandras agrees. So this year he's finally getting out and ending a family business that his father started three-quarters of a century ago.


CBS
Gus Halandras

"So many of my sheep colleagues have gotten out of the business. Why do I think I can surviveÂ…as one of the lone ducks left when I see everybody falling at the same time? We can't make a living," Halandras explains.

What's happening is a hauntingly familiar story, an old tale of the new West, where change is being forced on people, mostly by outside influences. And lifestyles and futures hang in the balance.

All 2,500 acres of the HalandrasÂ' ranch sit in northwest Colorado's White River Valley. Since the early 1920s, HalandrasÂ' father and now he and his two sons have been herding sheep between their land and the grazing range they lease from the government.

But seemingly overnight, the bottom line flip-flopped. Sheep prices went down, land prices went up, and every day there's word of another ranch being sold. The one next door to Halandras just became 17 separate 100-acre "ranchettes."

Halandras won't give up his ranch, but he's selling his grazing rights on 70,000 acres of federal land. His sheep herd is next.

"It won't really hit me until next year, next spring, when it's time to have birth. God, I love it. I love to be right there and se life created, never get tired of it," he says.

And he never tires of those five days each fall when the dogs and their owners show their stuff at the Meeker Classic, the celebration that, to HalandrasÂ' delight and dismay, is working too well.

"I'm trying to save a way of life and say we don't want growth, and yet I'm promoting Meeker, which in essence promotes growth," Halandras explains.

There are newcomers in the crowd now, and the familiar faces are only home to visit. HalandrasÂ' daughter, Peggy, is among them. She's gone off to become a doctor.

And there's HalandrasÂ' wife, Christine, running the concession stand. For years, she has also run a catering business and a bed-and-breakfast to help get the family through the lean times.

"He's been able to create something for the town of Meeker as far as the Meeker Classic is concerned but has not been able to hold on to his livelihood, which has been so important to [him] and his family. AndÂ…that is sad," she says.

"I'm not going to bleed. I'll probably cry a lot," Halandras admits. "I have two sons. When my dad left Greece, he came with the idea that he would create a better world for himself, his kids, his grandkidsÂ….I can't take it and run with it!"

And neither can his sons, 34-year-old Regas and 32-year-old John.

"There'd be nothing more we'd like to do than accumulate a little more land than what our father has andÂ…a place we could actually say is ours or mine or his or whateverÂ…but we, we can't," says Regas Halandras.

"I don't like it at all," says John Halandras. "It makes me hurt inside."

So Regas and John Halandras are going a different way. Regas is now a contractor, and John is a hunting guide. Together they own a small meat-packing plant, processing livestock and wild game. John has even developed his own lucrative side business making lamps and furniture from antlers shed each spring by elk and deer.

And at the Buffalo Horn Ranch, a 23,000-acre working dude ranch near Meeker, John HalandrasÂ' homemade chandeliers grace the main lodge. The sprawling guest ranch itself is part of the emerging face of the new West. The old West is largely myth and memory.

"I think the Western part of life, the people here really have tried to maintain that," says Christine Halandras. "We still have the rodeosÂ…and we still have the cattle ranchers who have their horses and wear their boots and hats. It's almost as if they're having to play at it because it really can't make a living."

"There is a West geographically. But it's not the West that we think about. It's not the West that my dad found, and it's not the West that I grew up in. It's changing," Gus Halandras asserts.

So changes are under way in Colorado's White River Valley. The briskness of fall turns into the bitter cold of winter; the geese are on the move; there's a chill in the air; and for some peole, itÂ's not just about the weather.

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