Colorado pharmacist turned rancher manages unique herd
Neighbors of John and Barbara Breitnauer never quite know what to expect when driving past their 15 acre farm north of Cedaredge, Colo. Since 1993, it has been home to a wide assortment of animals including llamas, alpacas, pot-bellied pigs, cats, dogs, cows, donkeys, sheep, chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, goats, and even rheas and emus.
“The emus were the hardest to keep,” John said. “They’d jump up in the air, fall over the top rail of the fence, and then walk down the road.”
Standing nearly 6 feet tall, with vivid splashes of turquoise coloring on their chests, the ostrich-like birds must have been quite a sight as they followed John, who lured them with buckets of grain, back home. Unfortunately, he does not have the giant birds anymore, since, “Something ran them down in my pasture and killed them few years ago.”
Originally from upstate New York, John always wanted to be a small farmer – even though he did not exactly plan on having exotic animals.
“People knew I was a softie, so different things got dropped off,” he said with a smile.
In order to provide enough space for the growing menagerie, he started leasing additional acreage from friends.
Along the way he was gifted with ranch-style livestock as well, including his first pair of sheep. Given to him by a family that was moving, they became his starter herd.
“I bought more numbers and eventually had about 40 pair,” he said.
Unfortunately, he lost some lambs every season due to predators. To protect them, he also took in “Frosty,” the Great Pyrenees dog.
Although she moves slowly most of the time and often rests in the middle of the road, John said, “You should see her chase coyotes off the property.”
John sold out his sheep herd in 2011 because at that time there “wasn’t enough profit for what all I had to do.”
Instead, he turned to cattle. Once again, that soft heart worked to his advantage, but in a most unexpected way.
After losing his Gelbvieh bull to brisket disease last May, John had been hard-pressed to replace it.
“Cattle prices were going up and I didn’t think I’d be able to afford another one,” he explained.
But then came an out-of-the-blue offer. A local widow needed to find a new home for her pets, which included several horses. Right away he found new families for them. She then offered John a gray-faced, retired cow named “Daisy” and a Scottish Highlander named “Annie”. While looking them over, he noticed a young Angus bull.
“What are you going to do with that one?” he asked.
“Eat him,” the widow responded. Quickly, the wheels started turning. John offered her one of his own, fattened steers as a trade and just like that, he got his new bull.
Pointing over the fence towards his cows, he said all of them are pregnant. He has 17 head of cattle total.
Not all births are planned on the Breitnauer ranch but he welcomes each new arrival. Three years ago he adopted a young jenny named “Bangs” to keep company for his jack donkey, “Joe,” which was also given to him.
Bangs would not let Joe get near her, yet she kept getting fatter and fatter. Turns out it was not just from plenty of good feed. Bangs had already been bred, regardless of the fact her former owner swore she had been pastured with castrated animals.
In time she foaled “Fernando” and although he is not one of Joe’s own, the two are inseparable. This past August, Bangs finally presented Joe with his first offspring. John named that one “Francesco” and now, “all four hang out together in their own, happy little donkey family.”
And just this past September one of his Alpacas delivered a female cria. That one was also a surprise.
“I didn’t know for sure that she was pregnant,” he said. “There’s so much fur on an alpaca or a llama that it’s hard to tell. They’re a bit on the wild side, too, and they won’t let me get very close.”
Two months ago, when a local llama breeder decided to liquidate and move to Denver, John was given several members of that high-blooded herd, including a gorgeous, blue-gray male.
As a licensed pharmacist and owner of Cedaredge Pharmacy, Breitnauer has been known to work 10 and 12 hour shifts, six days a week. “The animals,” he said, “give me a bit of peace and quiet from the retail world.”
On his rare days off, he stays busy putting up hay, working on the irrigation system, spreading manure, and making trips to the sale yard and feed stores.
Once he and Barbara get their newest venture off the ground, the feeding part might get easier. Currently they are in the process of renovating their old building at 215 Main Street in Cedaredge, turning it into the future 4B’s Brewery.
The name includes son Nicholas and daughter Ashley in this family of four. Whatever mash is left over from the hops used in beer-making will be “fed to everything. That beef will be good!” ❖