Housing Complex

Goodnight, Cows: National Zoo Kids Farm’s Days Are Numbered

Goodbye friends! (FONZ)

Hear ye of youthful hearts: Better get your fill of bunnies in the next few months, because the five-year-old Kids Farm at the National Zoo has fallen victim to federal belt-tightening, and will close by late spring.

In the first round of budget cuts, the Zoo was directed to reduce its budget by $500,000 in fiscal year 2012–a not-insignificant chunk of its $23 million yearly allocation for animal care and sciences. The Kids Farm costs $250,000 per year to operate with three staffmembers, and given that it hosts no endangered species and is not a part of the Zoo's research activities, it was an easy thing to lose. The rest of the money will have to come from yet-to-be determined staff positions.

"The kids farm is very important to me personally," said Zoo director Dennis Kelly. "But it is a change that we can affect relatively quickly and relatively safely for the animals."

The barn and grounds will simply be mothballed, or modified slightly for non-animal use, such as classes. As for the 20 donkeys, alpacas, cows, goats, hogs and rabbits: The Zoo is working hard to find them all good homes, and visiting each prospective destination.

The decision, of course, is reversible if funds become available. According to Kelly, the best solution would be to permanently endow the kids farm–just $5 million would do it, if you've got some spare change burning a hole in your pocket.

  • John

    It's a little odd that they are nixing one of their current exhibits due to budgetary constraints while at the same time spending hundreds of millions on a zoo overhaul that started with the Asia trail, continues with the elephant house and seal exhibits, and will include parking garages and a sky tram when complete. I'm all for the overdue upgrades to the animal enclosures. But we can scrap the parking garages for sure. That would save a lot more than 5 million. Having a Ghost Farm on the zoo grounds will just stand as a memorial to Smithsonian mismanagement.

  • ecological

    Good point, John. Why not run a shuttle from the Metro like the Kennedy Center does? Save the parking lots for folks in full mini-vans or whose disability requires it, and encourage everyone else to take public transportation. That's got to be cheaper and better for all the animals, including us bipeds, than pouring a bunch more concrete.

    If the parking lots were meant to be a revenue stream, well, there's got to be something else. Invite DC food trucks to park on the trails for a small commission? :)

  • Out of towner

    I'm afraid Mr. Kelly is going to run NZ into the ground just like he almost did to Zoo Atlanta. He's got an agenda and I'm kind of surprised that the Board is going along with it. Screw what the public wants.

  • http://www.conceiveplus.com Alex Lanni

    Good points John and Ecological. Sure a shuttle will be better to earn revenues as well as minimize pollution and help the Kids Farm to stay, it is nature friendly farm than running classes.


  • Jess H

    I have to use this as an opportunity to give a shout out to the Oxon Hill Farm. 11:00 am daily milkings, you can feed the chickens, the horses are real working drafts. It's free, plenty of parking, and a nice picnic area. Very under-visited. A real gem in DC and it could alsa use more local support!

  • Lucy

    As I understand it, the AZA certification requirements for keeping elephants changed recently so that any zoo that wants to maintain certification is required to redo their elephant exhibit to give elephants more space and also to give them roaming capabilities. This was all based on new research into elephant needs. That's why some zoos, like the WCS in New York, gave up its elephants -- they no longer had the space to keep them under the new guidelines.

    But I agree with you, John, about the parking lots. Personally, I would prioritize the petting zoo over sky trams and parking lots any time. I'll miss those adorable little goats. Too bad they can't come live with me in my apartment building. :)

  • Jill

    Unfortunately, I think most of the zoo revenue comes from parking - that's why they increased it to $20 for 4 hours or more last year. Have you ever tried parking in the zoo after 10am during the summer months? The lots are ALWAYS full. Sure, it would be nice if more people decided to Metro - but the zoo is already encouraging that. Parking and concessions are what brings in money - it's unfortuate that the zoo can't start charging people for admission. Or at least charging them to see the pandas - I know everyone loves those black and white bears, but they are costing the zoo a fortune!!

  • trulee pist

    Mmmmm, bunny, delicious!

  • John

    Jill- The cost to construct parking garages is astronomical. It takes years just break even on them let alone make money on them. The cost per space can be as high as $100,000 if each spot made 20 bucks a day, 365 days a year, it would take more than 13 years to pay off. But considering they are only likely to be full on weekends and during peak tourism in the summer it would probably take decades. Not to mention the added maintenance and security detail that would be needed. They should just keep raising the rates on the surface lots. If people want to drive there that badly they will pay the premium. Charging for zoo admittance is a horrible idea. The day Smithsonian Institutions start charging will be a sad day indeed. In the case of the zoo it would be especially bad as covers so many acres. The grounds have always been and should always be free to wander.

  • Jill

    So John, what's worse? The zoo charging a small admittance fee or exhibits being closed and zoo employees losing their jobs? I didn't hear much of any uproar when the Museum of Natural History started charging for the butterfly exhibit.

    Either way the zoo is going through a huge financial crisis. Parking garages have been in their master plan for many years, and if money is allocated towards them, such as all of the construction projects you referenced, that is where it has to be spent. What the zoo needs is NEW ways and NEW ideas of making money. If you got any great ones, share them...but don't call for an end to projects that have already been decided on.

  • Nora

    While it's sad to lose the petting zoo -- we spent great times there with my son -- as someone noted, there are other places to see goats and chickens. I don't know enough about the whole renovation plan to comment.

    Charging admission would keep people from coming to the zoo altogether. As a mother of young children, I never knew how long their attention span would be, and I would have hated to spend $10-20 or more for 45 minutes, no matter how delightful that time.

    With it being free, we could go there every weekend and develop an appreciation not only for animals, but the different parts of the world they came from, and habitat issues.

    The Smithsonian is the only free set of museums of their caliber in the country. They make animals, art, and history accessible to anyone who can make it to our nation's capital. We need to keep it that way.

  • Joanne Darragh

    I am a volunteer at the National Zoo Kids Farm. We are greatly disturbed by this news (we heard on 2/14/11). At the volunteers' meeting Thursday night, several of us decided to make sure the "Word" got out to our visitors/neighbors/friends. We need your help. We need to raise $5 Million. Please help us and advise us. My email is joannedarragh@yahoo.com. Please write the newspapers and TV stations. Does anyone know Oprah? The Kids Farm belongs to all the children..... Please help. Joanne

  • John


    "but don't call for an end to projects that have already been decided on."

    So we shouldn't call for an end to the parking garages because they have been "decided on" but the Children's Farm, which was "decided on" and then built, and stocked with livestock? We should call for an end to that to close the budget gap?
    In the end I think the Zoo is missing out on a golden fundraising opportunity. So far this blog is the only one I've seen report on this. They should have gotten the word out that it's on the chopping block to raise money. Currently I don't think word is out and there will be a lot of crying kids when they show up to find an empty farm.

  • John

    Joanne- You should think about starting a "save the farm" facebook page. Best way to get attention

  • Jill

    John - all I am saying is that when money has already been allocated towards a project, it MUST be spent on that. Elephants, asia trail, and sea lion projects were started many years ago. The parking garages are probably more than 10 years away anyways...

    The kids farm needs an endowment to keep it running. It is also the easiest part of the zoo to shut down because it is easy to place the animals. This is obviously a political message the zoo is sending to congress.

    My only point in starting this conversation was to think of new ideas and new ways that the zoo can get some money.

  • citizenw

    Why not get all the Farmville addicts to pitch in a buck...? That would take you a long way toward $5 million... for a REAL farm! ;-)

  • Lori

    I live in Mt. Pleasant and daily walk in the zoo. The Kids Farm is the most kid friendly part of the zoo. Children and parents love it. Seems to me that some of these cost cutting congressmen and congresswomen, should bring their grandchildren and great grandchildren to the zoo and ask for their advice. Seems to me that the director should understand who is paying to park in those parking lots. While I know that our national zoo has a focus on research, most of the visitors are not researchers - they are kids and parents out to enjoy a day at our nation's zoo!

  • Stephen D. Hoopengardner

    Rose, the polled hereford cow, was born on my farm and she is welcome to come back here if the kids' farm closes and you are looking for a place for her. Her dam's name is Courtney who was also born and raised on our farm. Two of Rose's half-sisters reside on our farm in Hollywood, Md.

  • kelly

    c'mon out to Plumpton Park Zoo in cecil county MD. All new management, ownership...and we have animals the children can get up close and personal with!!

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