Rural Business Idea, Starting a Petting Zoo

When my husband and I first moved to the country we thought it would be fun to have a petting zoo.  That way we could have all sorts of unusual farm animals and make money from them too.

Starting a petting zoo is nothing like starting a regular business. It is all that and more. It can be rewarding, or frustrating, depending on what a person is expecting to get out of it and how much they are willing to put into it.

One of our friendly sheep

One of our friendly sheep

How Much Land do you Need for a Petting Zoo?

You will need enough space not only to keep the animals, but may wish to have additional land to raise food for them (at least hay). Otherwise the purchase of hay, straw, and grains, may be too much of an expense in relationship to profit. The minimal amount of space for the animals alone should be ten acres. The location needs to be accessible, and you should have parking for school buses, as you may expect to get school groups.

Check your Laws

Check zoning land use laws too. Some laws regulate if you can have a home based business such as this, on your property as neighbors may have traffic concerns. You may also need a business license and insurance. You may need permits for certain kinds of exotic pets or livestock.  A lawyer’s assistance may be needed to write up waivers.

What Buildings are Needed?

You will need a public bathroom, very likely you will not want people in and out of your house for this purpose. You will also need a place for people to wash their hands before and after petting the animals. This is as much for their own health concerns as it is for the health of your animals and may be required by law in some areas.

You will need appropriate shelters for each animal type and may need a larger barn where people can come in as groups so you can talk to them together, as when explaining rules. This is best in a controlled environment to prevent people from wandering off.

You must have secure fences and may want to avoid barb wire for injury to your customers.

In pastures your animals will require basic shelter from the elements. Do not take short cuts, remember you must to go extreme in making the animals look cared for, as if you do not, somebody will surely complain about the lack of care your animals receive, shutting your business down or reducing peoples desire to patronize your business.

You Need a Good Mix of Friendly Animals

The most friendly animals are often those who were raised as orphans. Many times these can be purchased from farmers early in the year for cheap, since bottle feeding is costly. Similarly you can purchase animals from other petting farms or raise your own.

Miniature animals are popular and safer simply because of their size, and they are not something most people would see even on a drive through the country. As such a person would be wise to select smaller breeds of cattle, and miniature horses and donkeys. They should also look into getting a good sampling of unusual sheep and goat breeds. Bantam chickens come in a variety of colors and some with different feathering.

Guests to your petting zoo will expect to see young animals, chicks and lambs. Intact mature male animals are generally less friendly and should be kept only for breeding purposes. Small pets, such as rabbits and guinea pigs are good animals that people and children can hold or pat easily. People should not be allowed to touch any animal under 1 week old, in fact these animals should be kept off limits to reduce stress. After that the public may be allowed to help bottle feed young ones, but should be kept out of pens where mother animals are present as the moms may be protective.

Set your Hours and Rates

Establish what your business days and hours will be. Will you operate by appointment only or allow drop in visits? Will you bring animals to children’s birthday parties (check for laws and permits) or will the people have to come to you. Set fees that are comparable with others in the area.

Be Realistic About Earnings

Chances are your petting zoo will be a side business for an actual farm. In most areas there is not enough demand for it to be a full time wage earner, although the cost of upkeep for the animals will be high. Do realistic calculations to determine how many visitors you need to make a profit.

Originally published October 25, 2009 on