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Can farms add petting zoos to monetize their domestic animals?

On Behalf of | Jul 10, 2023 | Agricultural Law, Land Use, Environmental Law

Agricultural enterprises often develop slowly, sometimes over multiple generations. At times, those who invest in farmland may have to readjust their business plan because the crop they intended to grow is no longer profitable enough or because their margins are simply too thin.

One of the many ways that farmers and those invested in agricultural operations might seek to generate profit involves adding a tourist attraction on their farmland, such as a petting zoo. When they are already caring for and feeding cattle, sheep, horses, pigs, poultry or other animals, those animals could attract visitors and generate revenue. People romanticize living on a farm, and so members of the public may very well pay for an opportunity to interact with those animals. Is it possible to convert agricultural lands occupied by an owner or farm operators into a petting zoo or similar tourist attraction?

Washington requires special permits for animal attractions

In theory, it may be possible to develop a petting zoo on an existing agricultural property without needing to rezone the land necessarily. Oftentimes, the main necessity to change a property over from strictly agricultural to agricultural with some retail elements included is the development of proper amenities.

The state specifically requires hand washing stations or alternative sanitation options, like hand sanitizer. Petting zoos and similar attractions usually need to post signage warning visitors about how contact with animals can lead to the spread of disease. In cases involving exotic animals, like big cats or primates, the petting zoo will need a permit secured from the state of Washington. Unless the facility has rehabilitation licensing, it cannot house wild animals native to Washington state as attractions.

In addition to improved amenities and proper permits, petting zoos may need to invest in special insurance. Small mistakes, like rushing ahead with an idea before learning about state law, can end up causing major challenges for farmers and entrepreneurs trying to adjust or diversify their business models.

Learning about and complying with Washington state regulations related to agricultural properties and land use is of the utmost importance for those hoping to develop a secondary stream of income, like a petting zoo as an attraction for the public.