Tag Archives: sheep

Christmas bonus: Farm animals in demand for Nativity scenes

Some farmers have extra reason to rejoice at Christmas: Tis the season for renting out animals for live Nativity scenes and other holiday events.

Growing up in rural Burlington, Wisconsin, one of Larry Squire’s favorite Christmas traditions was helping to set up a Nativity scene in his uncle’s barn.

“We borrowed the animals from all over the neighborhood,” he recalled.

So several years ago, Squire brought the tradition to Cargill United Methodist Church in his current hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, renting animals from petting zoos and small farms. The church rents two pens’ worth of animals to stand next to a makeshift stable alongside volunteers dressed as Mary, Joseph, angels and the three wise men.

“It’s a beautiful thing. There’s a calm and peacefulness that comes from having the animals there,” Squire said.

Farm animals, reindeer and camels are in high demand between Thanksgiving and Christmas, said Megan Powell, event coordinator at Honey Hill Farm, a mobile petting zoo with locations in Berry, Kentucky, and Utica, Ohio.

“We will do 25 to 30 events in one weekend,” Powell said. “It’s not uncommon for us to sell out.”

Renting animals for Christmas programs helps pay for their food and upkeep, she said, and has been a huge growth area for the business.

“Churches love it,” Powell said. “We didn’t create the demand. We just became overwhelmed by it.”

Jodi Collen, an event planner at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and president of the International Special Events Society, explains it this way: “As event professionals, it doesn’t take you long to say, ‘I’m organizing a Nativity and I can get a donkey — why wouldn’t I get a donkey?’”

Honey Hill works with dozens of churches, schools and businesses to provide sheep, donkeys and goats for live Nativity scenes, said Powell, whose mother started the business about 15 years ago with a pony that she rented for birthday parties. “It really took off and she started adding animals.”

Rentals start at $325 an hour for a group of animals, depending on which ones are requested and for how long. In most cases, Powell said, visitors are allowed to touch and pet the animals.

“We do have a camel,” she said. “But we only have one — so he goes really fast.”

Few petting zoos and traditional farms raise camels, and they are harder to incorporate into programs and exhibits, said Bob Hudelson of Lost River Game Farm in Orleans, Indiana. He raises foxes, skunks and other exotic animals.

“There are a lot of camels out there — just not a lot of tame camels,” he said.

Many churches want them, however: “The three kings definitely had camels on their journey to see Christ,” Hudelson said. “With the camel, you get more of a feel of the story.”

Customers also want reindeer, said Powell, who does not raise them but has thought about it.

“The demand for reindeer is really high,” she said.

From his farm in Knoxville, Tennessee, Kyle Wilson rents reindeer to malls, Christmas tree farms, zoos, hospitals and other businesses throughout the South. His prices start at $1,500 for a pair of reindeer for four hours.

“I currently have 21 reindeer but that’s not enough,” he said. “I started 15 years ago and each year I have had a record year.”

Families love to see Santa arrive with reindeer, said Amy Boyles, marketing manager of Kingsport Town Center in Kingsport, Tennessee.

“It’s an added thing for our community and kids,” she said. “How many people get to see a reindeer? It gives them a bit of a wow factor.”

She has already booked “Dasher” and “Dancer” to appear with Santa during the mall’s Black Friday sale.

PETA investigation reveals abuse of sheep, prompts designer to halt use of Patagonian wool

British fashion designer Stella McCartney says she’ll stop using wool from an Argentine supplier amid concerns about the treatment of sheep.

McCartney, whose brand doesn’t use leather, fur or animal skin, says in an Instagram post that she will no longer use wool from Ovis 21 after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video showing the alleged mistreatment of sheep.

McCartney says only one of 26 ranches used by Ovis 21 was involved, but that “is one too many.”

“I am devastated by the news but more determined than ever to fight for animal rights in fashion . and monitor even more closely all suppliers involved in this industry,” she wrote.

Ovis 21 says it is dedicated to regenerating grasslands and specializes in “holistic management.”

Congress to consider protections for farm animals in federal research

Federal lawmakers this week introduced a bill to require protections for farm animals used for agricultural research at federal facilities.

The bill follows a report in The New York Times that revealed animal cruelty at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, a federal livestock research facility in Nebraska.

The cows, sheep, pigs and other farm animals used in experiments at the facility currently are exempt from protections under federal law because of a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act. This loophole exempts farm animals “used or intended for use for improving animal nutrition, breeding, management, or production efficiency, or for improving the quality of food or fiber” from basic welfare standards.

The bill, with bipartisan support, would remove current exceptions that exclude animals used in agricultural experiments at federally-run facilities from certain protections under the Animal Welfare Act.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, and Matthew Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA/American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, both announced support for the proposed Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research Endeavors Act. The short name is the AWARE Act.

The Meat Animal Research Center is part of the Agricultural Research Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since 2006, ARS has spent nearly $200 million on the center, according to a report prepared by the USDA for Congress as part of the budgeting process.

The New York Times exposed the center performing inhumane experiments on farm animals, including:

• Locking pigs in steam chambers until they died.

• Breeding calves born with “deformed vaginas” and tangled legs.

• Leaving lambs abandoned by their mothers in pastures to die of exposure or starvation.

The center also performed painful experimental surgeries and allowed at least 6,500 animals to starve to death.