Auburn student works with real party animals

Published: April 22, 2016
Updated: April 25, 2016
Font Size

Article body

In a word, Patrick Starr's résumé is impressive.

In addition to taking on one of the College of Agriculture's most challenging undergraduate degree tracks—poultry science/pre-vet—the 19-year-old freshman is also a successful business owner. And we're not talking about a lemonade stand. We're talking a full-scale money-making operation. It's the portable petting zoo called Farmer Brown's Party Animals that the Lee County resident has been running for the past six years.

Starr couldn't even drive when he purchased his first party animal, a llama, in 2009 and began taking his growing menagerie on the road to birthday parties, educational events and even Christmas nativity scenes. Averaging an event per week since then, Starr is now a seasoned shindig specialist and owner of what is possibly the state's most impressive collection of exotic animals.

It's enough to tempt a typical teenager to brag. But this is no typical teenager.

"It pays the bills," he said stoically.

In fact, it does pay the bills—mostly animal feed and property taxes for the portion of his grandfather's cattle farm on which his animals live. But get the young entrepreneur talking about the animals he's accumulated, and stoic understatement is quickly replaced by excited recital of each creature's name and provenance.

From curtain-climbing coatimundis that his mom let him bottle feed in the house to a purse-snatching kangaroo that his high school science teacher helped him raise, each furry or feathered friend has a story. And, old soul that he is, Starr is remarkably good at telling them, especially when giving a tour of the Starr family's farm.

"That's Knucklehead," he said of a massive silver Brahma bull that saunters toward the fence. "He's saddle trained."

"You can ride him?" a visitor asked incredulously, though the ring-nosed beast does seem to have the temperament of a golden retriever.

"If you wanted to," Starr said, noting that, during the first week of fall 2014 classes at Auburn, Knucklehead spent an afternoon posing for selfies with giggling college students on the lawn of Comer Hall. Starr was then a senior at Lee-Scott Academy, and the gig was fairly typical of what his animals do and where they will go.

"We have traveled up to 200 miles with the animals before, and we generally advertise that as being as far as we will travel," he said. "That is about three hours of travel time for the animals. We want to make sure our animals are as comfortable as possible before arriving to customers' events."

As striking as Knucklehead the bull is, he's not the most unusual of Starr's animals. In an adjoining pasture, a camel grazes. Just beyond that, a zebra shares a windy hillside with three chestnut-coated Haflinger horses. Back at the barn, a pair of kangaroos enjoys the warmth of the cozy quarters Starr constructed just for them. Its 5-foot-high walls are topped with metal cattle panels that reach to the roof.

"You don't want them getting out," he said.

In addition to these, Starr has pot-bellied pigs, miniature horses and donkeys, peacocks, turkeys, alpacas, goats, emus, tortoises, Patagonian cavies, the aforementioned coatimundis and one fat-horned Watusi bull.

Many of Farmer Brown's Party Animals are creatures the average Alabamian will not see in a lifetime, and that is an inspiration to Starr, who plans to attend vet school and one day operate a safari park. Like any shrewd businessman, he has already done his research and knows the locations and characteristics of the nearest existing parks. Though he knows there is room in the market for this venture, for him, it's not just about making money. He wants his park to focus on education and believes it would draw school groups from as far away as Atlanta.

In addition to operating a safari park and working as a veterinarian to exotic animals, he has his sights set on expanding his family's landholdings so he can raise ostrich, bison or elk on the side.

"An ostrich can grow 12 inches in a month," Starr said. "In nine months, you can have an animal that is ready to be butchered, and it's red meat, very high in protein but very low in cholesterol."

Starr knows his stuff, and if anyone can achieve these unique goals, he's the guy. Besides Starr himself, no one believes this more strongly than his dad, Pat, who Starr says has been his greatest help in business so far. According to the elder Starr, his son has proved himself both capable and committed.

As an example, he describes another of his son's undertakings—Sleepy Hollow Haunted Farm. Consisting of a haunted house, hayride and sorghum maze and employing 75 people, the pre-Halloween fright fest ran for eight days. Ticket ranged from $10 for a single attraction to $25 for all three.

"He wore himself out with that, but he wouldn't tell you," Pat Starr said.

When Starr is asked if he will host the haunted farm again this fall, as he begins his sophomore year of college, he and his website confidently confirm that he will.

"I want to create something that people will start to look forward to each year, and maybe they'll keep coming," he said, and with his eyes ever on the future, he added, "It will sure help with vet school if they do."

Related Links
More Information

What could you see at the farm?

Though he's "adopted" a few animals whose former owners could no longer care for them, most of the creatures in Starr's collection were purchased at exotic animal auctions. He typically attends two auctions a year, though he often comes away empty-handed.

"I go for the experience, not necessarily to buy anything," he says. "You can learn more from the people that raise the different species than you can reading any book or article online. So, I go to meet new friends that share the same interests as me and enjoy having animals a part of their lives as much as I do."

Here's a rundown of the large cast of party animals you might see if you visit his Lee County farm on any given day.

  • 1 yak-Highland steer mix
  • 3 miniature donkeys
  • 6 peacocks
  • 4 miniature horses
  • 3 goats
  • 30 chickens
  • 5 Haflinger horses
  • 2 alpacas
  • 1 Brahma bull
  • 3 heritage breed turkeys
  • 3 coatimundis
  • 2 kangaroos
  • 1 camel
  • 3 pigs
  • 3 African spurred tortoises
  • 2 Patagonian cavies
  • 1 Watusi bull
  • 3 emus
  • 3 sheep
  • 1 Damara zebra
  • 1 pony
  • Too many chickens, ducks and geese to count
  • 1 very protective border collie named Bonnie

Learn more about Farmer Brown's Party Animals and find Starr's contact information online at www.fbpartyanimals.com.