We believe that the key to successful volume production, while maintaining high quality, lies in the design and construction of the facility. We have poured heart and soul into ours - and are proud to show it off!
Initially, we modified a large portion of the basement of our home to house our growing collection. Soon, this proved inadequate and we rented warehouse space to hold it all. We found that providing the quality care we were known for was challenging in this space. Maintaining controlled temperatures was a problem, and having to drive to 'work' every day made it a chore. Seemed like every time I needed a fresh picture or something, the animals were in one place, the camera in another, and me in yet a third! It was becoming obvious we needed a custom designed facility.
We knew we wanted to live in the mountains of Colorado. So we began construction of yet another home and facility. Hard decisions were made regarding the course of our business. We decided to stay at a smaller size and keep the quality high, focusing on producing the very best!
To begin, we purchased a 7.02 acre plot located in Fremont County, Colorado. This is between Canon City and Westcliffe. Access is pretty good with two paved county roads a half-mile away.
Forgive the blurry thumbnail, this panorama was taken from the front deck. It covers a full 180 degrees... We wanted this to become the view from our living room! (Also my friend Kurt Miller talked me into it, although he still denies it). Special thanks to him for that!
We selected this little area to become the building site. The land is covered in Pinion Pines, with a lot of Ponderosa Pines scattered about and a couple of Junipers as well. I measured one of the larger junipers and estimate it is several hundred years old. They are one of the longest lived and slowest growing trees in Colorado.
Further uphill in the acreage there is a small meadow area, and there is also some grassy meadow down in the front below the house. Mule Deer are everywhere, and Elk wander through also. Bobcats are frequently seen and Mountain Lions are in the area. Black Bears are plentiful. Smaller animals like Least Chipmunks, Rock Squirrels, Abert's Squirrels and Nuttall's Cottontails abound.
Birds are everywhere, and we've seen Clark's Nutcrackers, Pigmy and White-Breasted Nuthatches, Mountain and Western Bluebirds, Pinion, Steller's and Western Scrub Jays, Evening and Black-Headed Grosbeaks, several types of Hummingbirds, Sparrows and Warblers, and one Sharp-Shinned Hawk trying to kill any or all of the above.
Reptiles are about as well, with Bullsnakes and a few Prairie Rattlesnakes even! This surprised me, since we are somewhere between 7800 and 8000 feet above sea level. We've found Mountain Horned Lizards (Horny Toads) and Fence Swifts so far.
Apparently all this game attracted native peoples as well. We've found many surface artifacts here, some modern and some paleolithic.
Plans were made to construct a new home, situated in the trees and hopefully with a grand view of the Sangre De Cristo mountain range.
Concrete forms quickly went up for the two rear basement walls, the ones to be buried underground. The front two walls will be a walk-out at ground level.
Once the lower floor framing was completed, we brought in a modular home and had a crane lift the pieces up onto the foundation.
Fire retardant siding (Hardi-Plank) was installed overall, and with the metal roof we hope to be rather fireproof. This lesson was learned when we were faced with the Hayman fire in the summer of 2003. Try packing nearly 1000 animals when you are ordered to evacuate in ten minutes!
As this picture of the living room windows shows, we got our view! Hopefully, it'll be a bit more attractive after we get our stuff moved in. It's a pretty boring living room while under construction, and far dustier than Sean would EVER tolerate.
The decks along the front and back of the house were built, and we expect them to be the place we hang out all the time (unless we are cleaning cages). Once the bird feeders are hung in the trees, this should be a very fun place to be! They have proven to be especially comfortable now that a roof has been built over them.
Now, for the breeding facility!
The VMS facility was designed to hold 918 cages, not counting mice or 500-600 overflow cages for surplus hatchlings. Multiple rooms will be created for each type of animal - plus office, storage and work areas. This should be enough for us to carry on our work in our new state of 'semi-retirement'.
First, we designed our facility with plenty of space and power in mind. Once the framing was done, a 250 amp service panel and multiple 20 amp. circuits were installed, with electrical outlets spaced three feet apart on all walls. No funky extension cord rigs to catch fire here!
Ventilation systems and ductwork were installed, followed by massive amounts of insulation. We utilized a unique 'spray-in' foam insulation to provide the tightest air seal possible. Goes on water-thin and quickly puffs up into a thick foam.
Shortly after our work was finished, the spray foam machine sprung a leak inside the installer's van. Filled all available space inside the van with hardened foam! Took the installer two days to chip it out! (Sucks to be him!)
Wiring was also run for a state-of-the-art security system, including separate deeply dug-in telephone lines. The system includes noise detectors, infrared motion detectors, door and window open/break detectors and most walls incorporate a mylar film layered inside which will trigger an alarm if cut!
With five sheriffs living right in the area, response time is really fast! (Found this out by accidentally tripping it shortly after setup...)
Interior drywall was installed and smooth-finished, with washable paint. Here's the Ball Python room on the left and the Mouse room on the right. Commercial vinyl composite tile, vinyl baseboard and doors have since been installed.
Each room has separate timers to control both lighting and ventilation. These little units are slick! Multiple settings and manual override are built right in.
Each room has a digital thermostat controlling temperatures within. Each can be programmed for night-time drops, etc. This makes temperature control for breeding a snap!
The Colubrid room has a separate ventilation system controlled by a thermostat designed to exhaust warm air and intake cold air from outside on demand. This makes hibernation a snap - just set it at 53 degrees and forget it!
Lighting is provided by fluorescent lights mounted on ceilings, with Phillips Broad Spectrum Daylight bulbs installed alongside Phillips Colortone tubes. This provides a bright atmosphere with good color rendition. All of the photos on our site were taken with ambient room lighting only. Alternatively, red lights are installed on the ceiling and are controlled by wall switches. This allows us to observe our animals after dark - when behaviors are often quite different.
Ventilation is provided to each room by flush-mounted ceiling fans. These are connected to the digital timers which cycle them on and off as needed. Perfect for cooling down rooms at night, simulating nocturnal temperature drops. Set one of these babies to come on at dusk and run until dawn - sucks extra heat right out!
A big double stainless sink has been installed in the main work room, to meet health dept. regulations. We've installed cabinets around and over it to provide extra work area and storage space. Our gecko egg incubator is nice and handy at left. There is a telephone, a satellite music system, and we even spruced it up with a little original artwork!
A small half-bath is located just outside the work room (on the wall behind the sink). Just in case I drink too much coffee while cleaning cages!!!
At VMS, we understand that a quality feeder animal is what should go into a quality snake. We produce all our feeder rodents in our own facility from disease-free stock maintained in Freedom Breeder racks. We use only high quality foods - assuring the best nutrition for our reptiles. Bedding is changed twice weekly to eliminate strong odors. Few reptiles want to feed on a sickly urine-soaked & ammonia smelling rodent! Additionally, in-house breeding assures us a constant supply of fresh rodents in all sizes.
Here's what happens when Seans' restless mind begins to tinker with the DNA of a mouse! How did we create this long-haired little guy? Simple: just kept putting together the ones that had the longest hair! It seems to us that as long as you have to breed mice, they might as well be attractive. Many of our customers now own pet mice after seeing them!
Crickets are the most important part of the diet for our lizards. We purchase our crickets in bulk from ReptileFood.com and maintain approximately 1000 per ten-gallon tank. They are cleaned and watered daily. We feed a diet of chick starter, dog food, lab mouse food, kale, squash, zucchini, and different fruits/vegetables each day. Here, they are feeding on zucchini.
Hatchling snakes are maintained individually in a lidless plastic 6qt shoe box rack of our own design. Each box slides into a melamine rack system. Each is provided with aspen bedding to burrow in, a disposable water dish and a heat cable warms the rear of each cage.
Hatchling geckos are maintained individually in clear plastic shoe boxes. We utilize paper towel as floor covering, and provide a shallow water dish, and hide house. Each box slides into a melamine rack system. This system is incredibly secure - we've never had an escape!
Small species, such as Rosy Boas, or sub-adults of larger species are housed individually in clear plastic sweater boxes. Unlike other breeders' racks, ours have no back walls. This provides additional airflow through the ventilation holes drilled front and rear in each box. Additional air circulation is provided by ceiling fans in larger rooms. No stinky stagnant air in our cages!
Adult colubrid species, as well as many of our geckos, are kept in larger 28qt polypropylene boxes produced by Rubbermaid™. These are slid into 'lid-less' racks of our own design. Exacting construction tolerances are required to prevent escapes. We built all of these racks on our trusty table saw! Monica still claims this period in our lives nearly led to divorce. At least she kept it to herself!
Each rack has a heat tape inserted into a routed channel under the rear edge of each cage. This is controlled by a rheostat mounted into the face panel of the rack. Many racks also have a convenient electrical outlet mounted on front - since all available wall outlets are blocked by these racks which line the walls around each room.
Although it cost us one box per rack, we also constructed a four inch tall kick panel at the bottom of each rack. This keeps each bottom box elevated off the floor where it might get too cool. We felt the safety of our animals was more important than maximizing use of space!
A handy work table provides storage and a convenient work surface. With smooth rubber coaster wheels, it is easy to push around. Sean made it from scrap melamine left over from building the racks. Some of our racks also have storage drawers mounted underneath.
After examining all of the commercially available incubators, we finally built our own from discarded refrigerators. They are well insulated, have sturdy doors, adjustable shelves, and hold lots and lots of eggs. Dual redundant thermostats are installed, controlling heat tape mounted on the rear wall. Small computer cooling fans provides air circulation throughout. We also incubate larger numbers of eggs in temperature controlled rooms.
After receiving some training from our veterinarian, we outfitted ourselves to perform routine maintenance checks in house. We purchased a 1000x oil immersion binocular microscope for use in identifying most parasite and bacterial infections. This has made a big difference in the level of care we are able to provide our animals.
Look, we had actual 'pet' reptiles in the house! We bred Bearded Dragons in this 135 gallon terrarium in our den at one time. Lighting is provided by a pair of 48" Reptisun™ 5.0 tubes, with two spot-lamps and a ceramic heat emitter providing heat. While the lights all go off at night, the heat emitter stays on to provide a hot spot at night. Wattages are changed throughout the year to simulate temperature cycles.