Olivia

Here's a birthday party that will keep even very young children mesmerized for at least an hour!

Few party activities are more fascinating to tiny tots—and older children—than petting and feeding gentle furry and feathered farm animals, says Melanie Pien, owner of Pied Piper Pony Rides & Petting Zoo, in Carmel, New York.

"Kids get to touch and pet a variety of different animals. They love the different feels of each one," says Pien, whose company does 600 to 700 parties a year.

Pien and her staff often bring petting zoos to people's homes (See First Birthday Party Barnyard Bash. ) She also has brought animals to picnics, county fairs, museums, and even New York City townhouses—as well as schools for special needs kids, adult group homes, and nursing homes.

Adults often love the animals as much as kids do, Pien notes. "Some people rent some animals for the kids and other animals for the parents."

For very young children, Pien suggests a petting zoo alone (without pony rides). Older children will more likely enjoy the pony rides and won't be frightened.

10 more top petting zoo party tips

Other Children

1. The best ages for petting zoo parties: Surprisingly, Pien says, age isn't a factor. She recently did a party for 18-year-olds. "Parents sometimes have petting zoo parties expressly to introduce very young children to animals," she says. As a rule, though, she advises, "Be sure your kids love animals before you decide to have such a party."

2.  How long?: An hour is usually perfect for a group of 20 kids, says Pien. Some party-givers choose to increase the time by a half hour or even an hour.

3.  Which animals to include: Pien lets ustomers select four different kinds of animals. Smaller animals, such as chicks, bunnies, and ducks, come in pairs; larger ones, such as goats, pigs, and sheep, individually. Customers can choose to have a small petting zoo, pony rides only, or both.

4.  Check out the company: The key credential to look for is current USDA certification, Pien says. Having a license indicates that inspectors have looked at all animal health care records and have visited the farm to check the living conditions and daily care given to the animals.

5.  Insurance is also essential. Pien has full liability coverage for both pony rides and the petting zoo. "Customers can become additional insureds or co-insureds for the day of their event, if they wish." There's usually no charge for this service.

6.  Pony ride pointer: If pony rides are part of the party fun, be sure that pony-ride staff will walk on the side of the pony, next to each child, with one arm on the child's back. This precaution help keep kids safe and makes little ones feel more secure.

7.  In case of rain: Pien says she runs parties rain or shine. However, if she's scheduled to do pony rides and it looks like rain, she substitutes a petting zoo, if the customer prefers. Petting zoos can be set up in garages or even kitchens. "However," she adds, "we have had pony rides in three-car garages."

8.  Party safety: Keep all food, babies' pacifiers, kids' toys, and other personal belongings away from the area in which interaction with the animals will take place, says Pien.

Equally important, she notes, have running water, soap, and disposable towels available for thorough hand washing immediately after each child touches touches the animals, and before they move on to any other party activities. Adults should carefully supervise hand washing for all children—especially, those under age five.

9.  Cost: Costs vary based on location, the number of animals included, and the amount of time the petting zoo is available to party guests. Pien charges $350 for a one-hour petting zoo.

10.  Available extras: Pien offers hay for sale (not rental) at $15 per 40-lb. bale. Some customers use the hay for decoration or as benches in the petting zoo area. Others open the bales and hide objects in them for the kids to find as part of a treasure hunt.

Pien's company also sells bandanas, horseshoes, and other items designed to serve as costumes or party favors. Most petting zoo companies undoubtedly offer similar items.

Here are some adorable farm animal party supplies to help you carry through your petting zoo party theme:

                     

Farm animal plates    Farm animal party favors   Farm animal lunch napkins

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