Some of us have dogs. Maybe two. Cats? They’re popular, also. But Julie Murphy, who has a combination of canines and felines, also raises alpacas and llamas, all of which provide far greater benefits than simple companionship.
Julie, who is the administrative assistant to the executive team at Alliant National—and describes herself as the “lead fun-maker of office festivities”—co-owns Red Flower Ranch, a 10-acre plot just east of Mead, Colorado, with her husband. They—and their 12-year-old daughter, Sara, who was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis, Type 1 at 10 months old—live on the property, alongside two llamas and 13 alpacas, two dogs and three cats.
“Our name comes from a small flower on our farm,” says Julie, recalling the first time she spotted a little red flower blooming in a dry patch of dirt tucked in between a wall and some fencing. “It was the only living thing for several feet around it, and we were amazed at its determination to grow and thrive despite the huge odds against it,” says Julie. “It reminded us of Sara and all she’s been through with Neurofibromatosis—and all she has yet to face in the future. To us, it represents drive, determination and the ability to thrive under any circumstance.”
It was Sara’s medical team, in fact, that originally introduced the alpacas to the Murphy family. “We hadn’t been around alpacas at all, but her doctors thought that because of the peace they exude by simply being, they might be the kind of animals that our daughter would benefit from,” says Julie.
A short time later, the family attended an alpaca show to determine if the doctors were right.
“When we met the alpacas, we knew that these were the animals for us,” remembers Julie. “We quickly realized that there were many benefits to having them, including the fact that they’re great therapy animals, thanks to their curious nature and calm demeanor.”
As an added bonus, shares Julie, “They grow the most amazing fiber, which is considered by many to be the best natural fiber available.” The result? Easygoing animals that would bond with Sara and a successful alpaca business that would provide the Murphy family with a sense of security.
Since purchasing the property in the spring of 2013, Julie and her husband have spruced up the farm buildings, incorporated multiple pastures and built several llama and alpaca pens. In November of 2016, they started Red Flower Ranch.
“Our niche is that we have alpacas and llamas, while most farms have horses, cows and other typical farm animals,” says Julie, adding that the slogan of their ranch is “Colorado Raised & Made,” a motto backed by a fierce dedication to selling products produced by their own animals. “Unless I simply can’t avoid it, I don’t import fibers or materials from other countries, like Peru or Chile,” stresses Julie, pointing out that very few of her finished products are imported. “If they aren’t made by us, they’re made in the USA. Our goal is to keep it local, kind of like farm-to-table, except we’re more like ‘alpaca-to-hat.’”
Her other love, of course, is Sara, whose genetic disease has resulted in tumors that grow inside her nervous system. The disease can also cause bone deformities, blindness, deafness, cancer and other complications.
Still, despite daily pain in her legs and hips, bone deformities in her daughter’s pelvis and legs and numerous renal problems, Julie remains optimistic. “While Sara’s had more than a dozen surgeries in her lifetime and more hospitalizations than I care to think about, she’s a happy girl and I thank God that I get to be her mom.”
Sara’s favorite alpaca is a black female named Midnight Dancer. “Dancer and Sara have something special and love being together,” says Julie, noting, too, that Sara participates in craft and livestock shows. “She enjoys talking to people, especially other kids, about alpacas and answering all their questions.”
While Sara’s disease is debilitating, the Murphy family has leaned on the Children’s Tumor Foundation—the world’s largest nonprofit currently funding neurofibromatosis research— for support and guidance.
“When Sara was diagnosed, there was no treatment protocol and little research to advance a cure,” says Julie. “We still don’t have a cure, but they’ve reached a point where some promising medications and breakthroughs are on the horizon. I’m excited for the future and what it will bring to help those suffering worldwide from Neurofibromatosis.”
The Children’s Tumor Foundation has been so instrumental in Sara’s treatment that Julie donates a portion of each sale from the ranch to the Foundation.
While they continue to search for treatments for Sara’s disease, Julie lives in the moment and finds joy in the little things. “My husband always says that when things get hard, there’s a whole lot of upside potential. It reminds me that no matter how bad it is, it will get better, and when it’s already good, it could turn out to be great.”
Julie’s dedication and work ethic—she performs office manager duties for Alliant National’s corporate office, functions as an event planner and works closely with the education team—extends far beyond her office walls.
She’s a warrior and her positive attitude and genuine compassion for others is palpable. “I’m so blessed to have an amazing and supportive husband and the greatest daughter anyone could ask for. She’s taught me what true strength really looks like and to have more patience than I ever thought myself capable of,” says Julie. “To top it off, I’ve been given the opportunity to raise amazing animals and help educate others about their benefits. I truly am living the American dream.”