BY JENNY GOLDSBERRY
Down the road from Roy High School there’s a do-it-yourself petting zoo. There’s a black ewe named Sariah, a black lamb named Midnight, a white ewe named Ruth, and a red pig named Ginger. For a quarter, you can feed them with their feed dispenser that looks a lot like a candy machine.
The couple behind the DIY petting zoo, Teresa and Lance Hislop, has also set aside a milk jug. You can shake it to get the animals’ attention. The sound lets them know it’s feeding time. Ginger is so excited to get fed that she’ll crawl under fences as a shortcut to your hand. If you hold your fist above her snout, she will sit. The farmers also take care to fill the dispenser with just the right amount of feed for all the animals. They all love the feed so much, they’ll eat it straight out of your hand. As a result, they don’t care for any other food, and the farmers ask that neighbors avoid feeding the animals anything else. However, that also means you can feed them over and over again, as long as you have quarters.
It’s important that the Hislops maintain the right amount of feed, because the sheep love it a little too much. In some cases, they could literally eat themselves to death. Even though they have four stomachs, the fourth doesn’t have the ability to pass gas, which could have deadly consequences if a sheep overeats.
Meanwhile, the animals still have free range over the fields. The do-it-yourself nature of the zoo allows them more freedom than a traditional, cramped petting zoo. So, you can feel assured that you’re feeding and petting well-adjusted farm animals.
In the beginning, there was just Sariah’s mom, Esther. She was a black sheep raised by Lance and Teresa’s daughter, Grace. Esther’s mom wouldn’t take care of her, so Grace bottle-fed her. Instead of developing the typical, timid personality of all sheep, Esther was one of the friendliest sheep the Hislops ever had.
“She thought she was human,” Grace remembers.
Esther was truly “Mary’s Little Lamb,” following Grace around everywhere. She was even Grace’s escort during Homecoming. From far away, she could hear Grace’s call and come running.
Even though the Hislops have had the property for 25 years, it was only after Esther came around that they could actually start a petting zoo. They set up their first candy dispenser in March 2020. As you could imagine, many people went outside walking at that time and were pleasantly surprised with the impromptu zoo.
If you stop by, be prepared to meet the Hislops too. Their kitchen window faces towards the zoo, so they can see every passerby. They’re happy to tell you all about the animals and their feed; however, you won’t see the pioneer sheep, Esther. When she gave birth to Sariah and her two litter mates, she experienced complications and died. She is buried near the zoo because she loved it so much. Her legacy lives on, and her friendly disposition was passed onto Sariah. Sariah has given birth to Midnight. Even Miles, Grace’s brother, has a pig named Ginger that has cozied up to humans.
The money they earn from the dispenser has gone to more feed, and, when needed, toward occasional dispenser repairs and replacements. Plus, there’s the cage around the dispenser to upkeep.
Everyone who passes by has compliments to give the family. A phone number is listed on the petting zoo directions, and it often receives grateful messages. Sometimes, people send pictures of their happy animals feeding. People in the community are blown away by the Hislops’ generosity in sharing their land with their neighbors. The good news is that the Hislops plan to keep it running as long as they live there.