‘Godfather of Hygiene’ has farmed there all his life
By Mark Collins
If you call Richard Behrmann on his cell phone in October, chances are he’ll answer, but he won’t have much time to chat. “It’s hayin’ season,” Behrmann says. At 87 years of age, he still puts in long hours on the farm in Boulder County where he’s lived most of his life. Even though his days are full, he finds time most mornings to head to his older sister Ilse Bruning’s house, where the two share breakfast, talk politics and reminisce about how things used to be.
The Behrmanns made a living mostly as dairy farmers through much of the 20th century. In the 1890s, Richard Behrmann’s grandfather and great-uncle had a herd of 150 milk cows in Erie, near what is now the juncture of Highway 52 and County Line Road. Family members would milk the entire herd in the early morning and send the milk by train to Denver each day.
In 1907, Behrmann’s father, August Behrmann, bought 160 acres in Hygiene, the same plot of land where Richard lives and has worked all his life. They milked cows, raised grain, kept pigs, chickens, sheep and turkeys, and grew vegetables. For a spell, August Behrmann had a berry farm on what is now Folsom Street in Boulder. Small family farms were a significant part of the local economy in the early and mid-20th century. The Behrmanns bought farm equipment from local dealers, bought coal from coal mines in Lafayette, supplied eggs to an outlet in Boulder and sold their milk all around the county.
Richard Behrmann remembers when organic farming was simply called farming. “When I was little, everything was organic,” he says. “There were no pesticides, no herbicides. And there were no commercial fertilizers. Everything was fertilized with horse manure and cow manure.”
Giving Cops the Slip
Richard’s oldest brother, Hans, was in the first graduating class at Boulder High School in 1938. Before that, Richard explains, the school was located on Pearl Street and was called the State Preparatory School. It was linked to the University of Colorado. “The university was there first,” he says, “and to get kids ready to go to college, they had to send them to a high school.”
Behrmann went to Boulder High School, and graduated in 1945. With no school buses serving the rural communities during World War II, and with his parents too busy with farm work to drive him, Behrmann as a 14- and 15-year-old would drive a 1931 Chevy coupe to a neighbor boy’s house, and then let the neighbor boy—who was 16 and had his driver’s license—drive the 12 miles to school. When the neighbor boy didn’t feel like going to school, Behrmann recounts with a grin, he would drive himself all the way to Boulder High, keeping a careful eye out to avoid police cars. “Then, when I turned 16, I didn’t have to worry about the police,” he says, laughing.
After a stint serving in the military in Korea, Richard Behrmann returned home and started raising dairy cows himself. He never married, but keeps up with many nieces and nephews who live in the area. Along with farming, Behrmann was a ditch rider in Boulder County for 35 years (ditch riders oversee and care for the all-important water-bearing ditches during irrigation season), and he still serves on the board of directors for two area ditches. By 1990, he had been milking cows for 60 years, and with the dairy industry making it more difficult for small, independent dairy farmers to make a living, he milked his last cow. But Behrmann still raises hay that he sells to locals for horse feed, and manages the 160 acres he owns.
Besides the demise of small dairy farms in Boulder County, the biggest change he’s seen in his lifetime was the move from horse-drawn plowing to tractors and other machinery. When he was a teenager, it would take Behrmann an entire workday to cut 10 acres of hay with a good team of horses. Nowadays, he says, after breakfast and conversation with his sister, if he can’t cut 10 acres an hour on his tractor, something’s wrong.
Mark Collins is a freelance writer who lives in Boulder County.