AR-News: Mouse Breeder's Thriving Business
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Sun Jul 20 09:36:43 EDT 2003
Kansas City Star
Jul. 19, 2003
Missouri mouse rancher's business thrives
By CHUCK ORMAN
The Sedalia Democrat
OTTERVILLE, Mo. - Jim Wallenburn found his niche for
business success through a quirk of fate.
After years of selling rabbits to a Chicago firm, he
found a different and more profitable crop -- mice.
"I was delivering a load of rabbits in 1984, and they
were complaining that their mouse supplier was
retiring and they had nowhere to turn. I bought the
equipment, brought it home, bought some breeders and
let nature take its course," Wallenburn said.
Now, on his small holding east of Otterville,
Wallenburn keeps about half a million mice and sells
thousands of the tiny rodents each week.
What were once buildings holding rabbit hutches have
been split into rooms. Each room holds cage after cage
after cage of little critters that end up as lunch for
zoo-owned birds and snakes all around the Midwest.
"If you take Dallas, Denver, Milwaukee and Memphis and
draw a circle connecting the four you'll have our
market area," the mouse rancher said. "We deliver most
of them ourselves, but several people come and pick up
their orders, and the orders for Florida and
California are shipped by Federal Express."
His vans are loaded with orders and are on the road
most of the time. Wallenburn declined to discuss the
price of his mice.
"We deliver to zoos, mainly, but also to several bird
rehabilitation centers. There's an owl rehabilitation
center and a raptor rehabilitation center, both in
Illinois, that require the colored mice.
"If a bird is going to be returned to the wild, you
can't get them used to eating white mice they won't
find white mice out in the countryside where they'll
have to do their hunting once they're back on their
Wallenburn said zoos aren't as choosy about colors
since their snakes and birds will be kept inside for
their entire lives and will eat any mouse put in their
The sheer numbers are amazing. Wallenburn buys his
breeding mice from laboratory surpluses and puts six
females with one male. Every couple of days the
pregnant females are taken out of the breeding cages
and placed two to each birthing cage.
"The gestation period is 18 days, and each female will
have from 15 to 18 babies. Then I have to start
looking at the orders I have to fill," Wallenburn
He said the mice are sold by their ages, some sent off
on the day that they are born.
"Mice one to four days old are called pinkies. There's
a big call for them for birds. Five to seven day mice
are called fuzzies, seven to nine days are eyes-shut,
nine to 11 days are eyes-open, 11 to 14 days are
hoppers, 14 to 21 days are weaned mice, and anything
older than that is an adult mouse," he said.
Jim, his wife, Pam, and two other employees spend many
days filling orders to be loaded for shipment the next
"Pam is not your ordinary farm wife," Wallenburn said.
"She's right out there with us filling shipment cages,
making sure all the mice have food and water and then
goes in and keeps the books and cooks the meals. She's
not at all squeamish."
Food and water for the mice are a big issue. Glass
bottles with drip spouts, just like one would find in
a hamster or gerbil cage, feed clean, fresh water into
And what would mice eat?
"Purina Mouse Chow, of course," Wallenburn said. "We
feed about a ton of Purina every week."
Like formulas that Purina develops for other animals,
mouse chow has specific ingredients to help his animal
grow and stay healthy, Wallenburn said.
"Mouse chow cubes are basically grain products and
mixed so there is about 12 percent fat content. That's
what helps them stay uniform in size and more
saleable," he said.
But mice don't have to be fed every day or twice every
day like many farm animals.
"They eat the cubes through the wire containers and we
only have to fill them when they start running low,"
Wallenburn starts with healthy breeding mice, so there
is no problem with sickness in his pens, and he
doesn't have to worry about doctoring his animals.
"We don't give them extra vitamins or antibiotics
because the zoos and other buyers want them completely
organic," he said. "That's what they need to feed
Wallenburn said he sometimes takes a ribbing about
being a mouse rancher, but he always has an answer for
"I just mention that I don't have to be out there
tossing hay off a wagon when the winds blowing 90 and
the temperatures below zero," Wallenburn said. "And I
won't be up to my knees in manure, forking it into a
spreader. Raising mice isn't such a bad life."
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