Starting a Petting Zoo

By Donald Michael Schwartz

Job Duties

Are you a former 4-H champion, lived on a farm, or just like being around animals? Then you may want to consider starting a petting zoo as a business. If you don’t have extensive experience taking care of a variety of animals, then you will need to partner or hire someone who does. When starting a petting zoo you will need to find a location to house your animals, which provides adequate shelter and allows the housing of the kinds of animals you are housing. You will need to either have a location which gets ample foot traffic (i.e., in or near some sort of family fun park), or take your animals on the road to different family events. Most likely, you will be operating as a traveling exhibit or mobile petting zoo. When starting a petting zoo researching the family oriented events in your area is essential. You will also have to be good at working with children in a kind way. Of course, you will be responsible for the caring of your animals in your petting zoo, and will need to work with a veterinarian on a regular basis. In shopping for animals for your petting zoo business, you will need to determine if the animal will get along well with children and other animals. All the cages, display equipment, trailers, vehicles, and housing will have to be kept in mechanical order. You will also need to work with the carnival and event coordinators on any issues which may arise.

Where will you work?

When starting a petting zoo you will want to locate in an area where there are a lot of fairs, carnivals and other events. During your display season, the weather should be favorable to your animals. You will need to consider the related laws and ordinances in the area you are considering locating. Your animal housing facility should be near a good freeway intersection, since you will be doing a lot of traveling. An area with a good tourist industry would be good for business.

Basic Costs

When starting a petting zoo startup costs can be substantial. There are animals, cages, pens, animal care equipment, food, a high-horsepower truck, large trailer, and display equipment to purchase or upgrade. When opening a petting zoo a license, registration, permit and insurance fees must also be covered. Your petting zoo will need a bathroom; you can decide to rent a portable unit or have people use the bathroom in your home. You will also need sinks for people to wash their hands. You can consider using portable sinks. Your petting zoo should also have garbage bins to prevent people from throwing their garbage on the ground. You should have a veterinarian care budget. You will also need a marketing budget.

Tips for Starting a Petting Zoo

  • Be Reliable- Events will be advertising you as part of their billing. You don’t want organizers to look bad. It is much easier to break trust in the community than it is to build it up.
  • Do quality work- Your animals are counting on you. You need to take could care of them and build and maintain their trust. In these days, people don’t want to just pet animals they want to be educated. Families also want the assurance that the animals are being well taken care of.
  • Identify your knowledge and skills- Running a petting zoo requires a great variety of skills, as identified earlier, make sure you make an honest assessment of the skill sets of you and any partners. You will need to hire or consult for any holes in essential skills and knowledge.
  • Hire Employees- Employees will need to be thoroughly checked out, since they will be working around children and animals.
  • Licensing and Registration- Make sure you have all the necessary state, federal, county, and local licensing and registrations. You will need to have a Class C Exhibitor’s License issued by the United States Department of Agriculture for operating a zoo in the U.S.
  • Birthday Party Petting Zoo- You can decide to bring your petting zoo to birthday parties, schools or local events. However in this case you will have to have the proper travel equipment for the animals. You can also decide to offer birthday party pony rides.
  • Choosing animals- When starting a petting zoo you should have a variety of animals ranging from chickens, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, pot bellied pigs, sheep, goats, donkeys and ponies. All animals must be gentle, friendly and get along with people.
  • Insurance- You should highly consider getting insurance for your petting zoo in-case an accident or unexpected event should occur. If Insurance rates in your state are too expensive, consider looking out of state as well.
  • Have Rules- Have rules and guidelines for the children to prevent them from mistreating the animals. Put up signs such as No Kicking or Hitting. You should not allow kids to feed the animals food that was not purchased in your petting zoo. This is because children may try to feed the animals foods that are not healthy for them.
  • Sick animals- Do not have sick animals in your petting zoo. This can hurt your image especially when just starting out. If an animal gets sick, separate that animal and give it extra care until it gets better. Then when it is better you can have it rejoin the other animals in the petting zoo.

Advertising a Petting Zoo

When starting a petting zoo you can advertise through the following methods. You can test various forms of advertising to see which are the most effective for your business in your location. Keep the advertising methods that are paying off and dump the ones that are not. You should also look at places where your ads will be seen by parents of little children.

  • Petting Zoo Business Cards-Create business cards and hand them whenever an opportunity appears. Network as much as possible.
  • Flyers- Determine if you can put up flyers in local grocery stores, party supply stores, cake stores, restaurants, community centers, and more. It is best to ask the owner of these businesses for permission first. Also hand out flyers to passer byes on the street.
  • Yahoo Local Searches- If you include your business in the Yahoo Local Searches, when people search for your service in your local area your business will appear in the list. To add your business to Yahoo local search, enter the term “add business to yahoo local search” in Yahoo.com and click on the first link.
  • Google Local Searches- Google has a local search as well. To add your business to Google local search, enter the term “add business to google search” in Google.com and click on the first link.
  • Newspaper classified ads- Newspaper ads in your local newspaper can help spread awareness of petting zoo.
  • Local Events- Take advantage of local events and fairs to advertise and spread the word about your petting zoo.
  • Partner with Party Planners- Let local party planners know of your services and offer them commission when they find you customers.
  • Website- You can decide to develop a website to provide clients with access to general information about your petting zoo. Be sure to include information such as rates and directions on your website.
  • Social Media- Create a twitter and facebook page for your petting zoo and encourage visitors to join. If you have a website you can provide links to your twitter and facebook page.
  • Online- People are constantly looking online for fun things do in their city and local area. Search for “things to do in (your state or city)” in search engines such as google and check out the websites that appear. Contact the website owner and let them know of your petting zoo and if they can add your petting zoo to their website.

Not sure about starting a petting zoo? See a list of small business ideas

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Resources


Small Business Development Center- consult with experts

SCOREs - find a SCORES chapter near you to speak with a business consultant.

Small Business Administration- provides information for starting a small business.