Hi there

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I have become addicted to reading the posts here and in CS. I guess I have been a lurker although learner might be a better term. My husband and I live on thirty acres near the Ohio River in Illinois. We both have outside jobs but also tend to chickens, turkeys, goats, donkeys, rabbits, pigs, assorted cats, and a very cute miniature Schnauzer, named Zoey. We just built a new barn to house some of them and are considering opening some sort of petting farm to let kids experience firsthand the wonders of these animals. Does anyone have any expertise in this area? Does anyone else live in the S IL or W KY area? Thanks for all the info I've gleaned and hope to be able to share some of our good and not so good experiences.

-- Debbie (dc1253@hcis.net), July 22, 2001


Hello Debbie; I live on the other half of IL near the Wisconsin boarder---Zion. I don't live on any large piece of land but I do have about a .25 arce of land.Which is plenty of room to grow my garden and enjoy my two apple trees. My hubby and I bought the house 2 yrs ago,and the apple trees are a very big project for me because they were in bad shape when we moved in.

-- Lisa K (magpie@fsi.net), July 22, 2001.

Debbie, I don't live in your area, but I worked at a large petting zoo in Maine for 4 years. Before you decide to do something along those lines, consider a few things.

First of all, you will be inviting strangers into your home. They will have no respect for the hours you post as the times you are open and will come at all hours of the day and night. They will litter and will feed your animals nasty things. They will expect you to drop what you are doing and talk to them. They will expect the animals not to poop and God forbid if you mention butchering dates!!! Especially in front of their children! How could you possibly ever eat that cute little lamb? (Afterwards they will go to McDonalds for a hamburger.)

Second of all, you will be inviting strangers who have no idea how to handle animals onto your farm. Sometimes this is a wonderful teaching tool. Sometimes this is lawsuit fodder. While I was working at the petting farm we were sued a few times. One time I was giving a pony ride to a small child and the mother elected to walk along. The mother was not paying attention to the pony and the pony stepped on her foot. The mother fell backwards, pulling the child off the pony on top of her. The pony was pretty good about the whole thing, considering that she had the ground pulled out from under her abruptly. She stepped sideways quickly away from the woman. I was quite glad it was that pony...we had others that were not as good. The woman sued us. Oh, the woman did strain something in her back, but the child was all right. The farm settled. The press from a lawsuit can be worse than the suit, even if you win.

You will have to endure federal inspection. USDA inspects petting farms and zoos. They apply the same rules to petting farms and zoos that they do to lab animal facilities. Fencing was always a big problem for us. They wanted wire mesh of 2 inches or less on ALL fencing. Any horned animals had to have barrier fencing (double fences....one for the animals and one for the people). All animals needed to be tracked. You had to have the name, address, phone number, license plate number and drivers license number for every person you bought animals from or sold animals to. Records of all of these things had to be kept updated and available for inspection at all times. The farm I worked for was seasonal, but the inspector could and did come off-season and we were expected to have everything in order.

The farm I worked on closed down. There was a working dairy at the same location and a milk processing plant, and with all the mess with hoof and mouth this spring they decided not to open. A petting farm is a vacation destination. People who are vacationing may well be from places that have disease problems that you don't have. The man I purchase grain from used to take ponies to birthday parties. One time he had a pony come down with strangles just after a party. He decided it wasn't worth the risk and stopped doing the parties. There were no ponies other than his at the place where the party was held...the disease was vectored by a person somehow.

I love educating children about animals. I think one of the saddest things about kids these days is their lack of connection to the earth and the animals on it. Food comes from the grocery store. Milk comes in jugs and meat is just stuff wrapped in white paper or plastic and styrafoam. I take my own show on the road occasionally. I've taken my ewe and lambs to my daughter's school. I've given a honeybee talk to the first graders for their insect section for the past 2 years and will continue to do so. I did a wonderful program with my daughter's second grade class this past year, where we determined how long it took to make their lunch. (We took the school lunch menu and determined how long it would take to grow all the things on the list. Their lunch took 7 years to grow, since that's how long it takes a standard apple tree to start producing. We discussed seasonality and butchering and all kinds of things.) I don't want you to think that I'm anti-education. I guess I've just seen the hard side of petting farms and I would personally never do one. I want to say, also, that the farm where I worked was an excellent farm. They were very clean and were animal and child friendly. I was their vet tech (which means they cared enough about the livestock to have a vet tech).

-- Sheryl in Me (radams@sacoriver.net), July 22, 2001.

Debbie, We live on 75 acres on the Cumberland River 12 miles upstream from the Ohio River. Are you drowning in all the rain we've gotten the last two weeks? I think this forum is great, but how do you all have time to visit all these forums and write long messages? This time of year especially there's so much to do that I feel kind of guilty spending time on the Internet.

-- Katherine (KyKatherine@Yahoo.com), July 29, 2001.

Hi there, Lisa, Sheryl and Katherine! I live about ten miles from Smithland Dam so, Katherine, that makes you and I nearly neighbors. As far as being on the Internet, my computer is directly in front of our air conditioner so I come in here for much needed breaks from the heat. We were so desperate for rain before it came I don't think we would have minded treading water for a bit. Sheryl, I really appreciate your insight about petting zoos. It seems that no matter how simple a thing seems to be somehow it can get so very complicated. Lisa, your place sounds nice. We have an apple tree that never produced much until a wind blew it over about six years ago. Now it is always full of apples. It looks a bit strange but actually the apples are much easier to pick. Have a good weekend...Debbie

-- Debbie (dc1253@hcis.net), August 02, 2001.

I don't have a answer but a question as well. I would like to have a portable petting zoo with some small critters for parties and educational purposes. can any one tell me how to start something like that? What are the regulations and rules? Who would I talk to in the community to get started? Thanks very much, Pauly

-- pauly Beattie (rseven@willams-net.com), July 19, 2002.

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