The Little Rock Zoo Opens New Arkansas Heritage Farm

Katahdin hair sheep and lambs.
Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images

It feels like spring and nothing is better than spending a spring day at the Little Rock Zoo.  Starting on April 2, families have an all new reason to visit.  On April 2, the Little Rock Zoo opens their new Arkansas Heritage Farm.  Members get a sneak-peak on April 1.

The farm is an update of the existing farm. The animals you know and love have a brand new exhibit and some new friends.  The most striking new addition is the large, walk-through barn.  The barn will be used as housing for the animals, but visitors will be allowed to walk through and learn a little about agriculture in Arkansas.

Visitors will not only be learning about agriculture in Arkansas.  The zoo has partnered with Heifer International to teach about Heifer's mission worldwide.  Throughout the exhibit, you'll find graphics detailing the seven M's of Heifer's mission: milk, manure, meat, muscle, money, materials and motivation.  Through this, the zoo can help showcase the great things this local organizations does to solve hunger around the world. 

To demonstrate a few of these M's, Heifer donated a chicken tractor.  Chicken tractors are movable chicken coops used in sustainable farming.  The ability to move the chicken coop provides fertilizer and aeration to multiple areas of the farm. 

The new Arkansas Heritage Farm also features a smaller barn, chicken coops and a fun bridge for the goats to cross.   For the kids, there's a brand new playground.  Designed to include all kids, the playground has equipment for kids with disabilities and a cool, two-story grain silo slide.

Heifer International donated several animals, including a heritage breed Heifer helped to sustain. Heritage breeds are breeds that easier to raise on a small scale, and were developed before the advent of massive-scale industrial agriculture.

Katahdin sheep are a breed of hair sheep developed in the United States.   Hair sheep do well in warmer climates, because they have hair instead of traditional wool. They do not need to be sheered like a normal sheep.  Katahdin sheep are mainly raised for meat.  They were originally developed in Maine, but Heifer International built a sizable flock at Heifer Ranch in Perry through the 1980s.  These sheep help demonstrate the Heifer mission because they are highly adaptable and low maintenance sheep.  The young lambs are born quite independent, and they are perfect for pasture lambing.

Heifer's mission builds sustainable community agriculture.  Heifer gives families animals, teaches them to raise them and then the family must pass on the gifts.  Since these sheep are so adaptable and hardy, they fit into the Heifer mission well.  Families can easily raise them on small pieces of land, they are hardy and easy to breed with young that can easily be passed on and they produce a wealth of lean meat to sustain families.

Another Heritage breed that will be featured is the blackbelly sheep.  There are American blackbelly sheep and Barbados blackbelly sheep.  The zoo currently only has one American blackbelly sheep.  These are also hair sheep, and do not have wool.  They also don't need to be sheered.  The American blackbelly rams have rather impressive horns.  These guys will be fun to watch all year, as they develop thick, woolly coats in the winter and a shorter coat in the spring and summer.  These are not used in agriculture as much as the Katahdin sheep, but they are a very striking animal.  Hair sheep tend to do better in warm climates, like Arkansas, than woolly sheep.

Animals at the Arkansas Heritage Farm include the previously mentioned Katahdin and Blackbelly sheep, geese, African pygmy goats, Nigerian dwarf goats, miniature donkeys and miniature horses.  The zoo has a dwarf miniature horse that is only 14 inches tall. 

With the Arkansas Heritage Farm, the petting zoo is coming back after a long absence, and zoo visitors will allowed to pet, feed, brush and groom many of the animals in the farm with zoo staff supervision. 

The grand opening is open to anyone with paid zoo admission (free for members) all day on April 2.  Heifer International will be there, and the zoo has fun educational opportunities planned all day long.  The kids will also be able to enjoy the farm and playground.  For members, there is a special preview night Friday, April 1 from 4-8 p.m.  You must RSVP.  The night includes a light dinner, one train ride ticket and one carousel ticket per person. The farm will be open and some activity stations. 

Even if you don't get to opening day, take some time to check it out this summer.

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