‘They love you no matter what’

Stephanie Fortner discusses therapeutic farm experience

Stephanie Fortner poses with one of her lionhead rabbits at Fortner Farms. (Sara Gladney for The Cullman Tribune)

HOLLY POND, Ala. – Holly Pond’s Fortner Farm, owned by Stephanie and Benny Fortner, is a petting zoo that welcomes visitors to learn about the wide variety of animals on the farm, including goats, pigs, mini zebus, cows, emus, baby doll sheep, mini donkeys, a mini pony, bunnies and chickens.  

Visitors are advised that they will get dirty and to dress accordingly, said Stephanie Fortner “We get in the pasture; we don’t feed through the fence.” 

Fortner works with each of her animals from the time they are babies to get them used to being around people. “From day one you’ve got to start messing with them,” she said.  

She picks them up and pets them so they are familiar with people; however, she said, she does keep some of the animals away from children if she feels the animals could inadvertently cause harm. On one side of the farm are the mini pony and donkeys which are slightly more dangerous to be around due to their propensity to kick. Kids can feed them through a fence.  

Fortner said all of her animals love attention. “They’re all hungry all day long. It doesn’t matter how many people you have out here, they’re hungry.” 

The farm got started in October 2020. “We started it because I had stage 4 ovarian cancer, so my husband started this so it’d get me out of bed because I was so tired all the time,” said Fortner. “I’ll be on chemo the rest of my life. I have a form of narcolepsy and chemo, so I have everything fighting against my fatigue.”  

Fortner was diagnosed in 2018 and had to leave her medical coding job, but she said she loves being the “mom” to all of her animals.  

Hawk, a 2-year-old Nigerian goat, cheeses for the camera at Fortner Farms. (Sara Gladney for The Cullman Tribune) 

Her 2-year-old Nigerian goat Hawk was the first to join the farm. She bottle fed him from infancy and said she learned that she loved the purpose she felt when taking care of him.  

“Hawk was the first animal on the farm and then from there we just started buying different ones and I was like, ‘Well I’d really like to share with the community,’ because it was good therapy for me,” she said.  

Fortner was 30 years old when she had her son and then learned she was unable to have more children. 

“My favorite is the baby stage, but they grow up just like a regular baby would and have attitudes,” she smiled. “But it just got me knowing that they needed me- not that my 14-year-old son doesn’t need me, but a baby needs you more.” 

Fortner said creating this family of 30-plus animals has been a rewarding and relaxing experience for her. “They don’t have any opinions and they love you no matter what,” she laughed.  

The farm has been growing in popularity. Fortner took some of her animals to the Cullman County Fair and a few church events. She said she will likely have some field trips set up in the summer when there are more babies.  

Fortner Farm sits on 14 acres and is always acquiring new animals. Fortner’s business card says, “New animals added every day that my husband turns his head!” 

There are no set hours at the farm and visits are by appointment only.  

“I don’t have a set schedule because I don’t want to look at it as a job. I still want to love it and have it be therapeutic for myself as well as share with the community,” Fortner said. 

To learn more about Fortner Farm or to schedule a visit, go to www.fortnerfarmalabama.com. Guests are welcome to make appointments to visit the animals. Entry is $10 a person. 

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