'Ain't Nothin' Easy'

Millie Westbrook walks her zebra, Marti, though the doors of her barn to get it used to being led. Over the past 4 years Millie has refurbished an old tobacco barn to be a clean, welcoming space for people to rent for anything from weddings to birthday parties. In the early days of using the barn, she got increasing questions from customers to pet her animals in one of the adjacent barns. After having so much feedback she decided to make it a part of the event barn package.

Landon and Millie Westbrook comfort each other after returning home from a funeral for a family friend whose father committed suicide the week prior. The December 10-11, 2021, EF-4 tornadoes that ripped through Kentucky took a heavy toll on farmers in Western Kentucky. “After the tornadoes tore down all of his barns he was never really the same,” Landon said. According to the Center for Disease Control, farmers are twice as likely as people in other occupations to die by suicide.

Millie Westbrook operator of the event barn and petting zoo on Westbrook Farms on the phone with her husband while giving a hayride on April 16, 2023 in Alvaton Ky.

There are rarely any off days when you live and work on a farm and Millie is no exception. Her calendar book stays full almost everyday of the month and when she runs out of room to write in more activities she puts sticky notes on those days. “Emma [her daughter] helps out, but its mostly just me,” said Millie.

Blue, a rescued horse,- pulls a buggy up the road for a group that rented the barn for a young child’s birthday party. The horse and buggy rides are a big ticket item that attracts people to Westbrook Farms. Since it is such a niche experience there is large percentage of the overall population who have not experienced it. “Normally I can’t catch a break with the horse and buggy rides,” said Millie, “ they just keep on coming.”

Millie gives Mani the camel a small pep talk about being nice to the other animals while the birthday guests are present. After the petting zoo started taking off she wanted to start diversifying her herd to make it more interesting. Eventually, she had the opportunity to buy camels, emus, and a zebra.

“Farming is really a labor of love,” said Landon. On the Westbook’s farm, like many others, equipment and other items break everyday. The hydraulic hose to the boom arm of the grain mover busted causing fluid to leak fast while using it.

Millie closes her barn as the sun sets for the night after a birthday party. Even though her customers had left, and the barns had been picked up the work was not over. Most days she may not get to close up shop until after dark, and even though she was heading home for the night she could not rest just yet.

After bottle feeding her baby animals, watering others, and making sure they had enough hay for the night Millie is able to feed her dogs and wind down. On April 20 2023 the Westbrooks did not get to sleep until after 11:30 pm and were up with the sun the following day. “being up late is just part of it,” said Millie, “I try to feed these bottle babies at least 3 times a day.”

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