When Jimmy Wynn first got Monty, it was hard finding food for him.
“The pet stores were super expensive, and there was only one store that sold live,” he said. “They were very expensive. I ended up buying some on Craig’s List and breeding my own.”
Before we go any further, it should be made clear that Monty was a ball python and his favorite food was rats.
Wynn borrowed $35 from his mom to buy his first breeder rats, and soon was breeding enough that he had more than he needed.
“When I put it on Craig’s List that I had extras, the very first person that come and buy rats from me said he had over 200 snakes and he would buy as many as I could produce,” Wynn said. “I just started snowballing it.”
Wynn grew the business to where he now has 1,000 breeder rats, and moved onto other reptile care items, such as enclosures, bedding, lights, heat sources and food items, including mice, roaches, meal worms and crickets. He also sells nonvenomous snakes, bearded dragons and leopard geckos.
Wynn has been in business for close to seven years – in Girard, then Struthers, then Vienna – and on Oct. 4 he opened Big Sal’s Feeder Farm and Reptile Supply at 7107 Warren Sharon Road, Brookfield, which is about seven minutes from its previous location in Vienna, a space he outgrew.
Big Sal was a Savannah monitor lizard Wynn once had.
Wynn has tapped into the fact that reptile owners tend to be passionate about their snakes and lizards, and they like to be around other reptile owners. Many reptile breeders breed animals to achieve certain scale patterns and/or colors.
“It’s like living art,” Wynn said.
He said he has formed great friendships with some of his customers, and that’s why his store in Hermitage closed.
“People don’t just come for feeders,” Wynn said. “People come to talk to me and to talk to my wife (Amber, a bearded dragon enthusiast). Most of our customers are like friends and family now. They didn’t want to go to Hermitage, where we just had an employee there. They wanted to come to us, so they still came to Vienna.”
It doesn’t take much to get Wynn started on what are the best reptile breeds to start with if you’ve never had a snake or lizard before, the proper kinds and sizes of enclosures for particular animals, whether lights or heating appliances are appropriate, and whether live or frozen rats would be best as feeders.
“We have customers that have followed us from Girard to Struthers to Vienna,” he said, and, if he’s successful, to Brookfield.
Customers come from as far away as Cleveland; Butler, Pa.; and Salem. Some of those customers even helped move equipment, cages and animals to Brookfield and renovate the space to suit Wynn’s purpose.
While he’s raising rats as food, “We take care of our rats. We feed them good food; they’re not treated like scum,” Wynn said. “Some people’s breeding methods are not the most humane. I grew up on a pig farm and we’ve always treated our animals like animals, like living beings, even though we were going to eat them eventually.”
Big Sal’s also sells the rats – Norway or common brown rats – as pets.
“They are very smart and they’re docile,” Wynn said of his rats. “They make good pets.”
Store hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Wynn also boards reptiles for owners who are going away.
Wynn and Mike Marinkovich own the Northeast Ohio Reptile Show, which is held every other month at the Metroplex in Liberty, and attracts 800 to 1,000 people per show who want to learn about reptiles and products from about 120 tables. The next shows will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 22 and Dec. 10.
Find Big Sal’s on Facebook or call 234-855-3965.