How to Start a Petting Zoo in 14 Steps (In-Depth Guide)

Updated: April 12, 2024 is reader-supported. When you buy through links on my site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Opening a petting zoo can be a fun and rewarding business venture. Petting zoos have grown in leaps and bounds over the past five years, reaching a compound annual growth rate of 3.9%. This means the market may reach $107.2 million by the end of 2024


When starting your own petting zoo, you’ll need to make key decisions about location, enclosures, and animal selection. It’s important to start small with just a few friendly animal species and basic amenities before expanding. City farms, children’s farms, small roadside zoos, and mobile petting farms are all popular models.

This guide will walk you through how to start a petting zoo. Topics include market research, competitive analysis, registering an EIN, forming a legal business entity, obtaining business insurance, customer focus strategies, and more.

1. Conduct Petting Zoo Market Research

Market research is essential when running a petting zoo. It offers insight into the most popular petting zoo animals such as farm animals, guinea pigs, and pony rides. It also helps you better understand your target audience of animal lovers.


Several key factors are driving growth in this market:

  • American parents look for activities that are educational or allow kids to acquire new skills. Petting zoos check both boxes.
  • Petting zoos also cater to parents seeking screen-free activities for children.
  • The industry benefits from increasing consumer spending on experience-related services.
  • In terms of market opportunities, mobile petting farms represent an especially lucrative niche.
  • Traveling farms go directly to events, schools, parties, etc., eliminating issues around fixed location and access.
  • While the overall petting zoo industry is fragmented with mostly regional, small-scale operators, that creates opportunities for larger chains to expand through mergers and acquisitions.
  • Consolidation allows operators to increase pricing power, leverage shared administrative expenses, expand locations and geographic reach, and implement unified brands, standards, and best practices.

Nimble mobile petting farms and rolled-up regional chains are well-poised to capitalize on these trends. The market size may appear niche but shows no signs of slowing momentum.

2. Analyze the Competition

Understanding the competitive landscape is crucial when starting any small business, including a petting zoo. Doing thorough competition research can help you identify unmet consumer needs, optimal pricing strategies, and ways to differentiate yourself in the market.

For a location-based business like a petting zoo, your first step should be identifying direct local competitors. Drive around your target region and note any fellow petting zoos’ key attributes like size, layout, featured animals, admission fee, and add-on amenities like concession stands.

Observe foot traffic levels to gauge real-world demand. Talk to parents in the parking lot about why they chose to visit that day. This field research gives insights no online search can match.

Evaluate aspects like usability, visual appeal, posted photos/videos, engagement levels, and activity frequency. Use to compare website traffic metrics. Sign up for email lists to analyze messaging cadence and promotional offers. Monitor review sites like Yelp for mentions.

Subscription tools like SEMrush and SimilarWeb provide detailed web traffic analytics on the competition. Paid search ad history, keyword rankings, referral sources, highest traffic pages, and more can inform your fledgling digital strategy.

This multi-pronged approach helps you capitalize on competitors’ weaknesses and build on their existing consumer appeal, both offline and online. Analyzing the competition should be an ongoing process as you establish and iterate your petting zoo offering.

3. Costs to Start a Petting Zoo Business

When starting a petting zoo, significant upfront investments should be expected before opening day to construct proper enclosures and facilities, obtain animals, acquire supplies and equipment, market your attraction, and cover licensing, insurance, and other administrative expenses.

Start-up Costs

  • Fencing and Enclosures: Constructing basic suitable habitats for small- to medium-sized animals like goats, pigs, sheep, rabbits, ponies, chickens, ducks, etc. can cost an average of $20,000.
  • Initial Animal Acquisitions: Buying the animals themselves will likely run you $3,000 to $5,000 or more initially. Prices fluctuate based on type, age, training level, and source.
  • Supplies & Equipment: First aid kits, scales, tack boxes, and tools like shovels, pitchforks, and wheelbarrows will also be necessities, adding up to around $3,500 upfront.
  • Insurance, Licensing & Legal: Business insurance is non-negotiable when working with live animals around the public starting at approximately $1,000 annually for a single LLC location.
  • Facilities & Amenities: Building out any facilities or visitor amenities will incremental costs that can be spread out over time. Even basic gravel pathways and signage could be $2,000+.

In total, petting zoo owners cite average start-up costs ranging from $40,000 to $60,000+. Spreadsheet out every anticipated expense line item and get quotes from vendors to inform budgets.

Ongoing Costs

In terms of ongoing operational costs after the doors open, foremost are expenses related to caring for the animals like food, supplies, vet bills, training, waste removal, plus maintaining the grounds and facilities. Staffing costs are another considerable monthly expense.

  • Animal Care & Feed: From feed to bedding to routine medical exams and emergency vet care, keep at least $500-800 monthly set aside for proper animal husbandry per number and type housed. Hoof trimming costs ~$30 per animal twice annually as well.
  • Facilities & Equipment Maintenance: Expect ongoing upkeep year-round for any structures, fencing, pathways, and maintenance equipment from paint and minor repairs to full renovations down the line at approximately $150 monthly minimum.
  • Insurance Premiums: Annual comprehensive business insurance will need to be renewed starting at ~$1,000 for a single LLC. Additional premium costs accumulate from added locations, animals, amenities, employees, etc.
  • Staffing: A petting zoo cannot operate without trained handlers and supervision. With the federal minimum wage at $7.25/hour, one initial full-time employee earning $30,000 annually already tallies $2,500+ monthly.
  • Admin, Utilities & Misc: Budget for monthly office expenses like website hosting, point-of-sale system fees, advertising, accounting software, utilities, and other recurring overheads averaging $500-800+ per month.

4. Form a Legal Business Entity

When establishing a petting zoo business, one of the first legal steps is choosing a business structure. The four primary options each have pros and cons to weigh regarding taxation, liability protection, operations, and ownership flexibility.

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the easiest and cheapest model to set up, requiring minimal paperwork. All profits and losses pass through to the solo business owner’s tax returns. If sued, personal savings and other assets could be forfeited which provides little protection.


A partnership functions similarly to a sole proprietorship but involves two or more co-owners sharing control and assuming equal liability. While operations and ownership are split, if one partner makes a poor business decision or faces a lawsuit, the other partners and their assets remain financially responsible.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

Given hands-on interaction with animals, children, and likely food concession operations, an LLC is likely the best option when starting a petting zoo. LLCs limit the financial liability of all members to their investment amount, protecting personal assets like home equity if sued.


C-corps and S-corps place the highest formal separation between business and personal finances but incur double taxation, extensive record keeping, and corporate formalities. The petting zoo context does not need segmented business units or boards of directors. For small operations, corporate rigidity usually outweighs liability advantages over simpler LLCs.

5. Register Your Business For Taxes

Any petting zoo legally structured as a business entity like an LLC or corporation must obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Also sometimes called a Federal Tax ID Number, an EIN functions like a social security number for your company to identify tax returns and accounts.

Applying for an EIN is free and can be completed entirely online via the IRS website typically in under 15 minutes.

To begin:

  • Select “View Additional Types, Including Tax-Exempt and Governmental Organizations”
  • Choose “Other Non-Profit/Tax-Exempt Organizations” from the drop-down options even if structured as an LLC/corporation.
  • Provide basic information like name, address, and ownership details for your petting zoo as well as a valid social security number.
  • Double-check that the legal name, county, and ZIP code match what is listed on your formation documents.
  • Choose the appropriate reason code for applying. Code 7 represents “Business started or acquired” in this case.
  • Your EIN will be displayed on the confirmation screen. Retain this number to open business bank accounts, apply for pertinent licenses, hire staff when ready, and file taxes going forward.

In addition to the federal EIN, contact your state revenue or taxation authority to learn requirements around sales tax permits, consumer use tax registration, and excise or lodging permits depending on if your petting zoo charges admission fees or hosts birthday parties/events.

6. Setup Your Accounting

Petting zoos deal in high transaction volume across both business and personal finances. Proper accounting keeps track of incoming and outgoing funds and simplifies tax season.

Accounting Software

The first step should be evaluating small business accounting software like QuickBooks to automate invoicing, inventory, and reporting in real time. Connecting bank/credit card accounts to the software allows transactions to seamlessly sync. The software also reconciles accounts payable, tracks sales taxes, and preps financial statements.

Hire an Accountant

Hiring an accountant or bookkeeper provides experienced guidance on capturing relevant petting zoo transactions within the proper income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement categories per Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) standards.

Apply for a Business Bank Account and Credit Card

Separating all petting zoo accounts and transactions from one’s finances is crucial. Keep all assets wholly distinct. Apply for dedicated business credit cards in the LLC’s name using the EIN with limits tied to the business’ reported revenues.

7. Obtain Licenses and Permits

Petting zoo owners must comply with due diligence by securing all legally required licensure. Find federal license information through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA also offers a local search tool for state and city requirements.

At the federal level, a USDA Animal Welfare License under the Animal Welfare Act guarantees all petting zoo creatures receive proper care, housing, space, nutrition, and enrichment. Detailed regulations cover aspects like pen sizes, shelter dimensions, waste removal schedules, and more.

Any petting zoo serving food must also follow state or county laws around food service permits and safety protocols like the federal Food Safety Modernization Act. Regular health inspections confirm proper prep space, cooking equipment, refrigeration temperatures, and employee behaviors.

Zoning laws represent another compliance area, outlining designated agriculture or commercial land usage where petting zoo construction is allowed. Within municipal jurisdictions, additional special use permits, class certifications, waste management plans, water runoff rules, and parking minimums may apply.

Local fire safety and building codes layered onto state regulations also prevent unlawful construction risks endangering animals, staff, or visitors after opening. Electrical systems, emergency lighting, ventilation, accessibility features, and construction materials all undergo planned inspection.

Speak with business insurance carriers to ask what additional risk mitigations, assurances, or policy exceptions they mandate carrying coverage as well. Their requirements often force owners to comply with best practice flags uncovered in the licensing process.

While the red tape duties may seem excessive initially, regulators simply aim to ensure family fun petting zoo environments remain securely out of harm’s way. Enlisting consultants like retired health inspectors clear knowledge gaps so owners can address compliance hurdles systematically.

8. Get Business Insurance

Insuring your petting zoo safeguards the sizable personal investment required to open and operate while protecting customers and creatures alike should the unforeseen occur. Accidents happen when working with excitable animals and children, making insurance nonnegotiable.

Imagine one hyper puppy playfully nips a small hand, resulting in an aggressive parent lawsuit. Without coverage, hard-won savings could evaporate practically overnight settling claims and legal fees.

The law requires animals to carry rabies vaccinations but personal liability protection remains the owners’ duty alone. Or envision a fence left unlatched Allows escape. Retrieval costs compound rapidly tracking the animal plus addressing any property damage caused before re-enclosure.

Even scenarios like a power outage ruining refrigerated inventory or storm flooding pathways place the zoo’s next-day viability at risk absent insurance payouts. Simply put, don’t open the gates without it.

To begin the application process, determine the zoo’s legal entity type like LLC partnership or sole proprietorship. Insurers utilize this framework to assess risk exposure. Document every physical asset and animal on premises for underwriters.

Land parcels, gift shops, concession stands, and party rooms all represent separate insurable items. Disclose full employee roster salaries intending to cover as well.

Armed with specifics, obtain quotes through an online marketplace to compare premiums and coverage inclusions across multiple carriers. Expect rates between $1500-3000 annually factoring in different breeds housed, claims history, attendance size, add-on policies like workers’ comp, etc.

9. Create an Office Space

As a primarily outdoor attraction, petting zoos may question dedicating budgets to formal office space. However, owners still routinely handle administrative duties, vendor calls, payroll, accounting, marketing planning, and other computer or phone-based work. Here are some options for a petting zoo office:

Home Office

A basic home office suffices initially for intermittent paperwork and digital tasks when starting small. As full admission seasons launch and staff/animals multiply, limitations arise. Juggling confidential meetings with rambunctious family chaos becomes untenable over time, not to mention tax deduction restrictions.

Retail Office

Retail office space connects directly to gift shops/ticketing booths for customer-facing sites. Managing daily openings/closings while monitoring ground activity proves convenient. Square footage needs to stay small with possible room for minor storage. Costs range from $10-15 per square foot depending on finishes.

Coworking Office

Coworking spaces like WeWork offer affordable mixed-usage offices for yard maintenance coordinators, event planners, and other behind-the-scenes associates. Accessible 24/7, these modern amenities-rich settings encourage collaboration with fellow entrepreneurs via open layouts and networking events.

10. Source Your Equipment

Launching a petting zoo requires extensive upfront investments into Constructing enclosures, acquiring supplies, and prepping outdoor spaces. While buying everything shiny and new seems ideal for durability, significant cost savings can be achieved through used purchases and temporary rentals without sacrificing quality.

Buy New

When buying new, materials like lumber, fencing, tools, and maintenance equipment can be sourced affordably at local home improvement stores like Home Depot. Specialty items like livestock transport trailers, trimming shears, and veterinary products shop at farm supply retailers such as Rural King in-person or online.

Buy Used

To save substantially, search used marketplaces like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for fencing, fixtures, and implements priced at 50% or more discounts. Listings abound from hobby farm shutters. Be ready to transport larger items with a truck/trailer. Sterilize thoroughly before use.


Instead of committing huge capital to amenities like bouncy houses, picnic tables, and concession equipment that see seasonal spike use, renting makes operational sense. Peer-to-peer rental platforms and local operation facilities offer flexible terms.

11. Establish Your Brand Assets

Beyond just opening the gates, petting zoos must nurture a distinctive brand identity through markers like logos, contact information, and an online presence to spark community awareness and drive visitor traffic long-term.

Get a Business Phone Number

Start by establishing a primary phone line for reservations and inquiries tied specifically to the business. Services like RingCentral provide toll-free numbers, call routing to cell phones, voicemail transcriptions, and more professional capabilities starting under $30 monthly. Publish this call-to-action contact across all materials.

Design a Logo

To enable consistent recognition across touchpoints, create a primary logo encapsulating the zoo’s personality through a color palette, fonts, icons, and graphical treatments via DIY sites like Looka. Scalable vector files retain crispness on signs and t-shirts alike. Extension brand imagery then echoes this core visual theme.

Print Business Cards

Business cards offer convenient information exchange with guests, vendors, and partners. Order cheap, custom cardstock integrating the new logo alongside phone, email, web, and social media channels through convenient online print services like Vistaprint. Keep stacks handy upfront and with staff to enable organic referrals.

Get a Domain Name

Of equal importance are a .com domain name and website establishing an online hub for schedule details, photos, event bookings, and contact convenience. Services like Namecheap facilitate quick, affordable domain purchases and hosting setups.

Design a Website

A website is imperative to any new petting zoo facilities. It helps customers find you and offers an air of authority. Build out full multi-page sites via user-friendly DIY platforms like Wix to showcase features or have designers on Fiverr custom craft sites if preferring a hands-off approach.

12. Join Associations and Groups

While seemingly niche, a surprisingly robust community exists helping petting zoo owners operate optimally, market strategically, and tap into collective wisdom. By proactively networking locally, new startups plug into valuable knowledge banks accelerating the path to profitability and smoothing inevitable hiccups.

Local Associations

Petting zoo-specific trade associations share everything From animal nutrition tips to info packet templates for schools/camps. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums offers similar guidance. Regional zoo alliances also provide forums for coordination.

Local Meetups

Attending area small business conferences, farm seminars, agritourism workshops, and family entertainment expos exposes additional insights from those navigating parallel micro-niches. Sites like Meetup index myriad such local events to browse. Bring plenty of business cards to exchange in person.

Facebook Groups

Online communities enable advice gathering from national newcomers and veterans alike. For instance, the Small Business Owners USA is a great place to meet other small business owners and World Zoo Keepers share first-hand experiences overcoming obstacles. Survey long-timers before replicating strategies.

13. How to Market a Petting Zoo Business

After perfecting animal care protocols and visitor experiences, petting zoos must still strategically promote offerings to move from hobbyist enthusiast endeavors to secure community institutions. Leveraging both established networks and emerging tools maximizes exposure channels.


Referral Marketing

Start by incentivizing delighted visitors to actively endorse the grounds. Offer a 10% off admission coupon to anyone providing a positive social media tag or online review showcasing their memorable experience. Such authentic peer advocacy carries tremendous influence driving referral traffic better than any advertisement.

Digital Marketing

In terms of digital marketing opportunities, numerous options exist to drive ongoing awareness and bookings:

  • Google Ads campaigns can optimize visibility for critical seasonal revenue boosts like spring break or summer with geo-targeted promotions. Expect to budget $100-300 monthly as a start based on bid competition.
  • Facebook/Instagram ads showcase behind-the-scenes creature highlights or event sneak peeks to fans and parents while updating Visit scheduling prompts direct bookings. Links within the drive to the website for purchases.
  • Launching a dedicated YouTube channel publishing short vertebrate vignettes or kid visitor reactions generates both engagement and SEO discovery juice as the clips propagate across Google searches.
  • An email newsletter with insider news, newly arrived animals, and special subscriber-only promotions reward loyal patrons with exclusive value for repeat business.

Traditional Marketing

For more traditional approaches consider:

  • Eye-catching vinyl banners or digital displays promoting seasonal events/camps placed strategically near schools and neighborhoods with lots of young families
  • Simple flyers/mailers sent to previous summer camp groups, schools, churches, and other kid-centric organizations
  • Radio underwriting sponsorships on local stations aligning with parenting demographics – “Brought to you by [Your Zoo]”
  • Chamber membership securing proclamation days dedicating your anniversary as “Petting Zoo Day” citywide!

While newer outlets present tremendous scale, the most effective initiatives enhance existing networks sharing memorable on-site moments within their communities. The seed that visible joy and marketing needs become secondary amidst growing crowds and booking redundancies!

14. Focus on the Customer

While purchasing adorable creatures and constructing enclosures represents a significant upfront investment when launching a petting zoo, the venture’s long-term viability relies wholly on consistently delighting visiting families through stellar customer service.


Meeting specialty diet restrictions for birthday parties, calmly addressing overeager kids, and ensuring guests with disabilities access enjoyable vantage points for animal interactions demonstrate the thoughtful care that earns loyalty.

Actively monitoring and responding to social media tags and reviews showcases responsive patron attention, thanking positive endorsers, and addressing constructive feedback shows the zoo cares about continually improving.

Consider personal touches like handwritten thank you notes to those booking larger events or surveys to regulars asking for input on new potential animals to acquire.

Petting zoos best thrive via community goodwill as a memorable place for creating joyful family memories away from ever-present screens. Investing efforts into hospitality as much as healthy habitats telegraph that message through staff conduct.

Ultimately, when warm customer service pervades the grounds, the animals and guests respond in kind. That’s an environment everyone wants to be a part of.

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