It’s not always easy and sometimes it’s not even feasible, but animals can be an important part of an agritourism venue. Since we as a society have moved so far away from the farm and even further from interacting with certain live animals, many venues use animals to create important memories as well as what we like to call “teachable moments”. Animals provide the link between the world we live in and what is behind that world. They allow people to understand the origin of some of our food as well as simply experience the joy of interacting with a new form of life.
So let’s talk about petting zoos and things like it for the next several weeks and discover some important information. Again, maybe you are already using animals in your venue or are just considering it, but we’ll try to discuss it from both perspectives.
Like anything else, we always need to look carefully at any new event or experience we add to our venues. Here are some questions that will help you decide the feasibility of live animal interaction in your venue:
Do local codes and ordinances allow for live animals? If so, is there a limit to species and numbers that are allowed?
Do I have the available space that I need to provide adequate care for whatever animals I add? Is it level ground and in an area that will allow for good traffic flow? (it’s important that it doesn’t cause congestion but allows for many guests to enjoy it at one time)
How much will it cost to build a quality pen area that will house the animals? Will it be a good investment for my venue?
What types of animals do I feel comfortable taking care of and handling? Do I have adequate experience or do I have a staff member in mind to oversee this area?
Where will I get the animals I need? Is there an economical source near me? Will I purchase them or lease them and what will I do with them when the season is over?
How much interaction will my guests have with the animals? Will they be allowed to touch them or will they simply be for viewing?
How will this impact my insurance and will I need additional coverage? Will that be dependent on the level of interaction?
Since we always stress creating a theme for your venue, how will this be part of the theme?
How long will it take to construct this area and will it be permanent?
What will I build that will provide adequate shelter from the elements for the animals?
Will feeding of the animals be limited to the ownership or will guests be allowed to feed? How will the guests feed the animals if they are allowed?
Will the animals be used for teaching purposes on weekends, for field trips, or both? Who will do the instructing and how often?
What kind of training will you provide for your staff in regards to handling the animals?
What do the animals eat and how will that fit into the budget?
Will there be a cost to participate?
We could probably list several more questions, but I like to use this format so that you can begin to evaluate what it takes to begin an interactive animal experience. We will use those questions in the weeks ahead to answer some of the details of how we go about getting started or getting better with animals in our venue.
There is no doubt that animals add to the experience of getting back outdoors. I remember many times where I had the opportunity to interact with guests that were simply curious about the simple things that we often take for granted. One fall season, I spent some time with a family that had traveled a couple hours from New York City to visit with us. They had never actually seen a live chicken and were mesmerized by their movements and their behavior and were able to finish the big picture of where their eggs came from. They saw the eggs that were still not gathered in the hay and it was the first time in their life that they saw them in their natural habitat. It was the first time that they saw them in anything but a compartmentalized styrofoam container!
There were dozens of times and dozens of interactions with guests just like these. And each time it was the same. The look in their eyes reflected the thrill of this new experience. It was an experience that would go with them and be a special memory for the rest of their lives. As we look at interactive live animal experiences, I won’t take too much time to convince you of their value. But as we move forward, I hope to help you determine if it’s right for you and your guests.