- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) - The last words I expected to hear after driving country roads and pulling up to a Colorado farm were, “Let’s go see the kangaroo.”

But that’s exactly what Chris Jessen said Oct. 14 as the early morning fog lingered over his south Loveland farm - a place where the cows don’t grow past 44 inches tall, a kangaroo and a wallaby are commonplace and the newest member of the family is a camel.

Jessen didn’t grow up around livestock, but a lifelong fascination with animals led him to become a mini cattle breeder more than a decade ago. With enough acreage for a menagerie of other animals - and money from the unlikely, but bustling mini-cow business - he started adding more exotics to the family. There’s Micah the Bennett’s wallaby and Pogo the red kangaroo, as well as Gus, a 3-month-old Bactrian camel and Maya a Bengal cat - a domestic cat bred to look like a small cheetah.

A collection of miniature cows, regular cows, chickens, alpaca named Angelo and a cat named Bindi round out the crew. They all live on the Jessen family’s 5 acres (plus 10 leased from a neighbor) with Jessen, his wife, Pam, and their two children.

The Jessens’ mini cow business, called Loveable Little Ones, sells about 10 to 12 mini cows a year for anywhere from $800 to $10,000 apiece. Mostly sold as pets, the miniature cows are about one-third the size of regular cows and can be used for “mini milking” or for meat. They’re currently sold out into 2018, requiring a wait list, reported the Coloradoan (https://noconow.co/2eS4tlt).

“Every so often someone posts a picture of miniature cows and then we get a rush,” Jessen said. “I mean, over 200,000 hits on our website in a couple days.”

The first huge rush came after the farm was featured on “Good Morning America” and then other news stations. The most recent was in September, after a photo of game show host Howie Mandel with his neighbor’s daughter’s mini cow, Moochi, went viral.

But the mini cows aren’t his full-time job, said Jessen, who still works his “Homer Simpson job” at Platte River Power Authority.

“It’s a hobby that pays for itself,” Jessen explained, saying that it started as an idea to buy agricultural animals for a tax write-off.

The exotic animals, on the other hand, are purely pets.

“I grew up in town, but ever since I was a little kid, all I would do is read books about animals,” said Jessen, who loves to research new potential pets.

He’d always wanted a camel and spent the past five years researching them and looking for one. A couple of months ago, he found Gus at a breeder in Texas. Now three months old and 300 pounds, he can grow as tall as 8 or 9 feet and weigh as much as 2,200 pounds. He’ll eventually be neutered, like Pogo and Micah.

And, by age 3, Gus will be rideable.

“They actually are an incredible animal. They’ve been domesticated for over 3,000 years,” Jessen said, adding that while Bactrian camels are native to Central Asia, and kangaroos and wallabies native to Australia, Gus, Pogo and Micah were not born in the wild and all came from breeders in the U.S.

Red kangaroos, Bennet wallabies and camels are all allowed in Colorado and are exempt from the requirements of wildlife commission regulations, according to Colorado Parks & Wildlife. Wallabies and kangaroos aren’t great pets if you don’t have the space for them, Jessen said. And, as they grow older, they also don’t like to be pet or cuddled, and prefer their own space, he added.

So what does Jessen’s wife think of it all?

She grew up in 4-H and is no stranger to livestock, but when he first brought up the idea of buying a camel, Jessen said Pam’s answer was simple: “No.”

After some cajoling, and promises of a kitchen renovation, she eventually came around.

So as Pam Jessen stood inside, her partially remodeled kitchen at her back, outside a kangaroo and wallaby hopped around their pen and a camel named Gus gnawed at some straw.

“He’s good at negotiating,” Pam Jessen said.

___

Information from: Fort Collins Coloradoan, https://www.coloradoan.com

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