Creatures Great and Small
Petoskey’s Kei Ju Farm and Rescue
By Eric Cox | April 20, 2019
“I cuddle skunks,” Julie Hall said, reaching into a straw-filled bin and pulling out a black and white-striped critter that would make anyone else run for cover. “I know that’s kinda weird.”
She snuggled the young skunk and kissed its small, surprisingly dog-like snout. Its beady black eyes stared back at her with seeming affection.
Unconditional love is but one bounty produced at Hall’s Kei Ju Farm & Rescue, which sits on the south side of Round Lake off Hiawatha Trail on Petoskey’s northern fringes. In fact, love and compassion — oodles of both — bounce around the slushy, mushy 11-acre farm like quail in a cage.
Hall has operated the place for years with her father-in-law, Keith Hall, who owns the land and lives across the road in the old Hiawatha Hotel. Kei Ju is a working farm with orchards, vegetables patches, fresh eggs, and goats milk, but the Halls devote most of their time to animal rescue.
Julie Hall, for instance, refers to the animals as her children, and she cares for them in the same manner.
Everywhere around the little farm are handwritten signs gently reminding herself, her family, and the few volunteers who help out, that animals, like humans, deserve adequate food, clean water, tidy living spaces, and some tender loving care to sustain them.
Hall is all about that TLC. From Robert, a black-and-white cat with an inexplicable hole in his head, to Poe, a nervous black raven with a broken, drooping wing, the accidentally injured, the carelessly neglected, and the cruelly abandoned animals of the world somehow make their way to Hall’s gate.
She makes room for them, nursing the sick, feeding the hungry and, most importantly, showering them with love and care.
But, while Poe, Robert, and a few other pet-type animals populate Kei Ju’s menagerie of slightly melancholy misfits, most of the residents are farm animals — some living out their last days there, others recovering from malnutrition. Six horses in various states of recovery amble around a corral and nibble hay. Not far away, two immense draft horses watch Hall, who speaks to one of them as she passes. The one moves to the fence and offers its snout, a gentle gesture of loving familiarity that belies the animal’s sheer size and power.
Many of Kei Ju’s animals seem to react this way to Hall, who moves gracefully among them, asking questions, praising them, chuckling at their individual quirks and habits.
“My grandpa, Ted Brendahl, told me, ‘If you’re gonna lock something in a cage, you’re responsible for all its needs.”
From the time she was just a farm girl in Future Farmers of America (FFA) downstate, Hall believed and employed her grandfather’s advice. That’s why, she said, her gaggle of emus are friendly and don’t try to attack with their talons. That’s why the skunk and the raven, the groundhogs and the ducks, the goats, the alpacas and the pigs, the horses and the rabbits – that’s why they all seem to love her.
It’s this symbiotic relationship with love-kept animals that Hall enthusiastically preaches when visitors come for a look. “I want people to feel like this is their farm, too,” Hall told Northern Express. “If they can come here and find peace with these animals, then that’s what I want. Come out here and make this place part of your life, too.”
And she means it. No one who visits is expected to work. But those who are willing to help her care for the animals and the farm itself, are, like the beasts and the children, looked upon as legit Kei Ju family members.
“I’m lucky to have one volunteer a day,” Hall said. “And donations have been down.” But that hasn’t stopped her from tenaciously caring for her varied flock of beasts, great and small.
The farm’s come-on, come all approach wasn’t always like this. A three-round bout with breast cancer in 2007 skewed Hall’s views. That’s when she decided to open Kei Ju’s gates and let the public tour the farm. Her hopes then, like now, were aimed at educating people about animal care and the many responsibilities of keeping them, whether for pleasure or profit.
“That’s part of why so many animals are abandoned today — because people don’t have any idea how to take care of them,” Hall said. “They don’t know what it takes, how much money it takes, how much time it takes. They like the idea of having a horse or a goat, but they often aren’t really prepared to handle the responsibilities. We’ve seen it time and time again — they end up abandoning or neglecting their animals.”
Kei Ju Farm & Sanctuary tours, along with volunteer opportunities are what Hall thinks will help people understand the requirements of animal care — before actually deciding to get one.
To learn more about Kei Ju Farm & Sanctuary, visit them on Facebook, or seek them out in real time. The farm is located at 4128 Hiawatha Trail, Petoskey. Large group tours are encouraged to call Hall prior to their visit, (231) 838-6057.