Business booms for farm that rents animals for nativity scenes



At Lexington's Morning Pointe Senior Living Center on a recent Friday night, the parking lot became a petting zoo. The facility's enrichment director, Derek Combs, arranged for sheep, goats, calves and a donkey to be brought in for a live nativity scene.

It's the third year the center has used live animals for its holiday event and now Combs says fake animals just wouldn't do.

"You have to have real animals," he said. "That's what some people come for."

The animals are rented from Honey Hill Farm in Pendleton County, a place that now employs 60 full and part-time workers to transport animals to fairs, festivals, church events and amusement parks and care for them on site.

Churches looking for nativity animals can find sheep or cattle a lot of places, but it's not easy to get camels. Honey Hill Farm has ten of them, and despite their reputation, the camels are quite tame.

They're just a small part of the farm's population. Owner Sally Powell says there are more than 500 animals on the farm.

"We have more than 100 goats and they all have names. 40 sheep and they all have names," Powell said. And she says she can tell you the history of each animal.

There are also llamas, alpacas, donkeys, cows, turkeys, pigs, ponies, ducks and rabbits.

Powell got into the petting zoo business 26 years ago, when she had just one goat, two donkeys and a pony. She would take the animals to schools or festivals a few times a year. Now, they sometimes have animals placed at more than a dozen events on the same weekend.

Her daughter, Megan Larkin, is the event coordinator. "We handle about 5,000 requests for information and do about 600 events a year and this year there's been a huge spike in December," Larkin said.

Sometimes the animals will work a long engagement, such as the petting zoo at King's Island's Winter Fest or they may work just a couple of hours, like at the nativity scene at Morning Pointe. Larkin says a grouping of animals (not counting camels) can rent for about $325 per hour.

The creatures are more than hired help. They're professionals who know how to act around people.

General Manager Rob Powell says people are amazed by how tame they are. "When they're born, they start going out on events. Interaction is the best thing for them. And they learn quickly that people bring food and that's where their meal comes from."

Like all jobs, there's come a day when it's time for the performers to go out to pasture.

"None of our animals are for sale.," Sally Powell said. "We have 175 acres, so when they're ready to retire, they have a home here for the rest of their lives."


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SPIRIT OF THE BLUEGRASS is sponsored by Regency Memory Care.

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