The Saturday before Easter we (meaning our fuzzy, four-footed residents!) were invited to the Piggy Cottontail Easter Egg Hunt put on by our local Historic Resources Department at one of our local historic properties. If you’re wondering what in the world is “Piggy Cottontail?” Well, this is Smithfield, home of the World’s Largest Ham Biscuit. It’s the original home (and still headquarters) of Smithfield Foods. Everything here has a pig-spin to it!
So we packed up a few cute spring animals and set up a little display for the kids to enjoy in between hunting eggs, eating Bunny Bait, and doing crafts. We did this last yearand enjoyed it, so we were glad to come back this year.
The chicks and ducks really steal the show, because we let the kids hold them and pet them.
Which brings up the point of this post–most children seem to have no idea how to approach animals. We see yelling, running, throwing grass and straw at the animals (that the children usually call “trying to feed them”), grabbing, squeezing, kissing, poking, climbing on fences, gates, and pens…
I think it’s just their enthusiasm and excitement, coupled with their complete inexperience–but we’ve seem some very disruptive behavior in children around animals. And not just visiting us, but also at the zoo, the Virginia Living Museum, the local Farm Park, pretty much everywhere we go that kids can get up close to animals. And it’s not just stressful to the animals, but it also keeps the kids from getting the best experience from the visit.
At best, the animals have just learned to ignore it and stand around completely oblivious to their little visitors. At worse the animals try to run as far away as possible.
Here’s a few tips that we try to encourage with each of our little visitors so they can enjoy the animals the most…
- Speak softly and slowly. The closer you are, the softer you should speak! There’s nothing worse for an animal then someone squeezing them close then hollering “HEY MOMMA–LOOK!” over top of them. Animal hearing is about 1,000 times more sensitive than people.
- Move slowly. Sudden movements mean DANGER to a prey species–which is pretty much all livestock. If you don’t want them to run from you, move slowly!
- Stay low. Animals respond better–especially young animals that have a much stronger in-born curiosity–to things that are smaller than they are. Things that are bigger than they are signal DANGER. This gives kids a real advantage to approaching animals! Hunching or squatting down will make you seem less dangerous and more approachable.
These are all really tough for kids! Even our kids struggle with these! I’m constantly reminding them, “How do we handle the animals? Calmly and quietly.” Parents can be a big help here and it really does make a difference.
Our lambs are likely to walk right up to sniff noses with a child that actually is nose-high–if they just sit still for a moment. They are going to run to the far side of the pen to get away from someone reaching in, waving wildly, jabbing at them with straw, or climbing over top of them on the pen rails.
And here’s a few things for parents to consider when visiting live animal displays…
- Don’t leave your children unattended. It’s usually a brand new experience for them–they need guidance. When I, as the exhibitor, am surrounded by busy hands, hollering voices, and stressed animals, my first reaction is to reduce contact between both parties. Everyone gets a better experience if you’re there to mind your half of the equation and let me manage my half.
Does that sound harsh? I don’t mean to be hard, but I think a lot of people give their 7-12 year olds more credit for self-control than they deserve. This is definitely the age-group we have to intervene with the most. Especially in the excitement of hands-on live animals! They need guidance–and they want you there to share their experience! One of our biggest issues besides kids climbing on the pens is kids trying to run off from the exhibit with an animal in their hands to show their momma and daddy.
- Hands only please! This is another reason they need your supervision. We have hand sanitizer and bacterial wipes available, but if your child is kissing the chickens, I can’t have them wipe their mouths! Our animals are in a clean, healthy environment, but we still try to make everyone wash hands after holding them and we don’t recommend putting your mouth on them. I’m no germ-a-phobe but we have no idea what your child may be allergic too!
We’ve been doing live animal displays at a variety of events for several years now. It’s a lot of work, but we enjoy it and we’re always trying to make it better for visitors.
Do you have any thoughts or experience to share on this topic?See where I’m sharing…