This June 5 Colorado auction could make you an overnight cattle rancher. It's an agricultural opportunity with a whiff of "Portlandia." The highest bidders each get a 100-acre parcel, making them partners in an organic ranch that produces free-range chicken, organic vegetables and grass-fed beef to supply the Boulder Whole Foods Market. They'll also have access to horse and hiking trails, lakes and streams stocked with fish and a luxurious lodge for parties and events.
"It's a great way to be an instant cowboy. You just have to buy your own cowboy hat," said broker Billy Long, who thought up the auction idea to move about 15 parcels of the Maytag Mountain Ranch that failed to sell after the real estate market crashed in 2007.
Buyers can be as involved as they want. They can help in the gardens, move cattle around, ride horses, collect eggs from the chickens -- or not. The Maytag Mountain Ranch, owned by the son of the washing machine inventor, is nearly 3,000 acres at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
"We lived there for 35 years, and it was a wonderful lifestyle," Russ Maytag said in an interview. "This way, we can share it with like-minded people."
The property is gorgeous, with endless fresh air and opportunities for biking, hiking, fishing and horseback riding. Those who have already bought in include full-time residents, vacationers who purchased property to build a second home and investors, Maytag said.
Beef prices are high and hay prices are low, so big ranches are doing well right now, and even amassing more property, said Mark Shaffer, who sells ranches in rural Austin, Colorado. Shaffer said that he has seen other ranches in western Colorado parceled up for luxury buyers, and cattle now roam among trophy mansions as families try to keep their working ranches alive.
Shaffer said the business model makes sense to him, although he doesn't really run with that crowd.
"You can have a ranch, talk about a ranch and not really have to deal with the management headaches of a ranch," he said.
The shared-ranch idea started to catch on within the past decade, Long said, but it hasn't gone well for many ranches. Shadow Creek Ranch outside of Silverthorne had to file for bankruptcy after failing to sell all its parcels. Other ranches in Colorado are more expensive, charging as much as $10 million for a parcel, said Long, and $35,000 a year in dues. Maytag annual dues cost about $8,000.
"It's the most affordable way to be a cowboy that you can imagine," he said.
Most of the plots being offered at $450,000 starting bids originally had $1 million to $1.5 million asking prices. To kick off the auction, Long's high-end brokerage, Ranch Marketing Associates, plans a fly-in open house in a couple of weeks, where visitors will get a tour and a chance to eat ranch-grown organic vegetables and, of course, grass-fed beef.