Duck, duck, geese, zebu and more: This Sebastian petting zoo is a true animal kingdom

If you’re wondering how many animals can comfortably fit onto five acres, the number is 150, give or take a chicken.

The key word is comfortably and it’s just one of the remarkable facets of life on a micro-farm hidden among the fishing boats and retirees of Sebastian.

If you’re wondering how much joy 150 animals can generate, that is immeasurable but know that the amount is immense.

LaPorte Farms is a petting zoo with a menagerie hailing from every corner of the animal kingdom but it is so much more. The operation is the brainchild and home of Laura LaPorte, 66, a woman with no lack of energy and motivation to do good. If you have a need, she has a plan.

Sitting on five acres about a mile west of U.S. 1 and about 2.5 miles south of the Brevard County line, LaPorte Farms is a petting zoo featuring mostly farm animals and a growing number of exotic species. Guests are welcome to love on the animals and feed them carrot sticks, which may be bought for $1 a bag. The farm is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The operation is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit with multiple community outreach programs and events. Admission is free but donations are encouraged to cover the many costs of animal upkeep.

LaPorte Farms grew out of a mobile petting zoo business LaPorte and her late husband, David LaPorte, operated in the 1990s. They would take their gentle animals to schools, nursing homes, daycares, anywhere that wanted a trailerload of critters to pet.

“We started buying and selling animals and I started doing a mobile petting farm. Going to schools and daycares, educating the children on farm animals and raising farm animals. I did that and summer camps," LaPorte said.

“Then in 1999, I got in a very bad car accident and couldn’t do it anymore. So I said to my animals, ‘If I ever get anything, y'all won’t have to work as hard and you’ll be at home. People will come to see you. So that’s what I’ve done."

Farm girl, animal lover

With the money from a court judgment, LaPorte was able to develop her five-acre estate and start populating it with her beloved animals. She had grown up on a farm and this was a logical next step for her.

Confined to a wheelchair with muscular dystrophy, LaPorte wouldn’t design a petting zoo that kept her from her animals, so the farm was built with accessibility in mind. Ramps, wide gates, thresholds that are easily traversed - these are the features that allow a family to enjoy a day outside regardless of physical ability.

Chantale Dawn Thompson, 37, and her daughter Destiny Bradfield, 19, of Vero Lake Estates, feed a zebra and a miniature horse at LaPorte Farms in Sebastian. Chantale said she’s been taking her three kids there since Destiny was 3 years old.
Chantale Dawn Thompson, 37, and her daughter Destiny Bradfield, 19, of Vero Lake Estates, feed a zebra and a miniature horse at LaPorte Farms in Sebastian. Chantale said she’s been taking her three kids there since Destiny was 3 years old.

“I didn’t get anywhere near what I was supposed to get (financially.) But I felt the animals were my therapy. Seeing people here, regardless of their age or ability, they’re always welcome. For me, to be able to roll out and see the animals in the morning, see the smiles on people’s faces throughout the day is the reward,” LaPorte said.

A walk through the park reveals a clean, healthy environment for her many friends.

Among the animal crew: “A zebra, a kangaroo. We’ve got goats, sheep, llamas, donkeys, horses, ponies, an emu, lemurs, tortoises, pigs, cows, a zebu —  it’s an exotic cow," LaPorte said.

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“We have a Highland cow. We have lots of birds: Chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, parrots, cockatoos, African greys, Amazon parrots, blue and gold parrots, Catalinas. Just all kinds of birds.”

They also have sun conures, pheasants, guinea fowl, quail, white doves, a lavender skunk, rabbits and a bearded dragon.

The farm brought home its newest member of the family, a dromedary camel, on Feb. 9. She is under three months old and will need to be bottle fed multiple times a day until she is six months old, LaPorte said. On Feb. 25, the farm held a baby shower and $5-a-ticket raffle contest to choose her name and she is now known formally as Fergie.

The road to this little piece of heaven is a dead end and unpaved and tires kick up the marl no matter how slowly they roll. But once on the property, it is clear that LaPorte’s five paid staff members stay busy keeping the grounds free of trash and all that can make a barnyard fragrant.

Moondance the llama at LaPorte Farms in Sebastian rides in a minivan. He is a good-natured llama who enjoys visiting daycares and assisted-living centers.
Moondance the llama at LaPorte Farms in Sebastian rides in a minivan. He is a good-natured llama who enjoys visiting daycares and assisted-living centers.

LaPorte Farms is a visual riot. It’s a first time for many to see unusual animal pairings, such as a zebra and miniature horse begging side by side for freshly cut carrot sticks. Or a trio of buds made up of a pale dun burro, a black-and-white Holstein calf and a shaggy, red Highland bull.

Expert grounds management, the layout of the property and the design of barns and other structures are all key to this being a pleasant home rather than a cramped, cacophonous circus.

“Did you guys build everything that I see here?” A question poorly worded and instantly regretted.

LaPorte laughed: “There is no ‘you guys,’ it’s me. Yes. I designed it; I had a vision and I built my vision.”

Those visions are still coming and they arrive fully formed, just waiting to be put on paper and then, land. A huge part of that vision is being of service to others.

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One of those visions made into reality is the LaPorte Farms Medical Equipment Closet. LaPorte supplies items such as wheelchairs, walkers, lift chairs, potty chairs, crutches and more to anyone who needs them, free of charge, for however long they are needed.

“I had a stroke in 2015 and I couldn’t get an electric wheelchair. I kept getting turned down. I could no longer walk, I couldn’t use my arms, all I’ve got is my pen and my stylus,” she recalled.

When she could make a difference, she did.

“I put an ad on Facebook for used medical equipment. I give them out every day. People come and pick up medical stuff. At no charge. It’s just donations," said LaPorte.

“There is a great need. I get calls from hospitals, therapists, doctors, all looking for equipment for their people because it’s so hard to get and the wait time is terrible."

Laura LaPorte is adored. That is clear. Fewer than 10 seconds into an interview, a young man came over, leaned down, kissed her on the cheek and asked how her day was going.

“We’ve been coming here for years. I’ve known Laura since I was born,” said Tim Aikey, 36, of Vero Lake Estates.

On this  blue-sky day at the farm, Aikey brought his son, Timothy Jr., to visit. Junior is 8 years old and as a second-grader he is more interested in smartphones and fishing than the hows and whys of his dad and Laura LaPorte knowing each other.

“He’s got a lot of trophies for fishing. He’s got first, second and third-place trophies. Been doing this for a couple of years now,” said Aiken.

There's a fishing tournament every two months. Back when the farm was taking shape 25 years ago, LaPorte stocked one of her ponds with tilapia and catfish.

During these fishing tournaments, the kids are catching and releasing the many sons and daughters of that inaugural population.

Laura LaPorte, 66, is owner of LaPorte Farms petting zoo.
Laura LaPorte, 66, is owner of LaPorte Farms petting zoo.

Food bill: not just chicken feed

There’s an old saying among the horsey set: If you want to make $1 million with your horse, be sure to start with $2 million. In other words, they eat money like it’s hay, and you’re not likely to become rich owning a money-eating machine.

So imagine the bill for a family of 150 ever-hungry mouths. Some of the residents pay their way, such as the chickens whose eggs are sold fresh and the ponies available for $5 rides, but most do nothing more than stretch their necks through the fencing to pry carrots from visitors’ hands.

“We go through 20 to 25 bales of hay a week, we go through anywhere from 15 to 18 bags of a general, all-stock feed, we go through eight bags of cracked corn, we go through chicken feed," LaPorte said.

"We spend $1,500 to $1,800 a week."

All this and she doesn’t charge admission to the park.

“Yes, it’s all donations. And God is good," she said. "But some weeks I wonder how I’ll make the feed bill."

The farm gets its feed and hay from Malabar Feed and Farm, LaPorte said.

"They are fabulous and very good people," she said. "They've been sponsoring us for about six years. Ann and Jerome (Voldness, the owners) are awesome. They’re all very good folks there."

While the farm exists on donations, nobody is just sitting back letting the cash pour in. The mind that thought up the medical closet has conjured a dozen other ways to entertain guests while earning much-needed money.

For instance, “We have the trains,” she said of a colorful, three-car kiddie train pulled by a riding lawnmower. The sides feature local businesses and the ads are hard to miss as the train circles the main path.

When told she’s quite the hustler, in a good way, she smiled and said: “I don’t go on vacations, I don’t buy jewelry. I love my animals and they’re going to get fed. That’s my life.”

A full calendar, year-round

A visit to the LaPorte Farms website shows all upcoming special events and the calendar is packed all year. One event, the Special Needs Western Hoedown, was held Feb. 17 and featured a mechanical bull, a steer-roping challenge and unforgettable photo ops.

The baby camel at LaPorte Farms in Sebastian was given a name at her Feb. 25 baby shower.
The baby camel at LaPorte Farms in Sebastian was given a name at her Feb. 25 baby shower.

“We have a lot of special needs guests and three times a year we host a Special Needs Western Hoedown," she said. "We invite them to come out, we give them hamburgers and hot dogs, cowboy hats, bandanas. I’ve got a band that comes and they dance the night away."

The farm’s Dr. Seuss’s Birthday Celebration, held March 2, is tied to LaPorte’s deep desire to increase childhood literacy rates. At the birthday event, children receive a cupcake and a green egg while enjoying a Dr. Seuss storytime.

“Two years ago, my goal was to put in a reading gazebo. One of my great friends said, ‘Laura, let’s do it.’ So he sponsored our reading gazebo and we do a challenge with the kids," LaPorte said.

"If they read 20 books, they get a pony ride on Joker."

Storytime is at 10 a.m. Wednesdays in the Todd Smith Reading Gazebo. Children are invited to bring a book and take a book, so the selection is ever-changing.

This year's Easter on the Farm, on March 30, promises to be an eggs-travaganza of 5,000 hidden Easter eggs. To keep the crying to a minimum among the toddler set, children are limited to three eggs each. The Easter Bunny and Chicken Little will be on hand for photos and Home Depot, which has a strong relationship with LaPorte Farms, will hold a children’s workshop. Guests will also get to try gem mining and various arts and crafts. Pony rides and cookout foods will be available for purchase.

“Also, we do a back-to-school event where I collect from the community and we give out 300, 400, 500 bookbags full of school supplies,” LaPorte said.

While it is true that LaPorte needs community support to keep her animals in the forever home that she promised them, that need is always balanced with the effort to provide a fun time and great memories for her guests.

The love is genuine and it must be the fuel that keeps this one-woman benevolent army on the move. Love and a positive outlook, those two elements must be her secret.

“I’m 66. I’ll be 67. I have to have someone feed me, someone give me a drink, bathe me, get me out of bed, put me in bed. But it’s all good,” LaPorte said.

She thought some more and added: “I live here, work here, love life. Some mornings . . . you thank God you woke up and watch for the rewards of the day.”

If you go

LaPorte Farms is at 7700 129th St., Sebastian. For information: 772-633-0813; or

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Old MacDonald had nothing on Laura LaPorte and her Sebastian farm pals