Vanderlaand The Barnyard Zoo — so much more than a petting zoo

Above, Ruth Vanderlaan, proprietor of Vanderlaand The Barnyard Zoo all smiles in the llama pen. Kelsey Smith, Nation Valley News

WINCHESTER SPRINGS — Vanderlaand The Barnyard Zoo offers so much fun for the whole family —  for such a small price — a formula that has served the operator well for over a decade. 

Ruth Vanderlaan and family celebrated their 10th anniversary in business with a party last year and drew their biggest crowd yet.

“We had well over 600 people, maybe even as high as 800! Having gorgeous weather definitely helped!” says Vanderlaan, whose surname serves as the playful inspiration for the “Vanderlaand” description in the Zoo’s name.

“It makes you feel so good, doing something you love and have it be so successful. We can’t get over the support we have received from the community,” the owner-operator sincerely expresses. 

The Vanderlaans vowed to keep their prices as affordable as possible. “The cost has been $5 per person since the day we opened and will probably still be $5 until the day we close,” she asserts.

Families can pack a picnic lunch, play on the barnyard themed playground and pet the animals all day long. The Zoo has many returning customers and many “that visit more than once a year,” she adds. 

Although Vanderlaan and family would love to welcome visitors every day at their Oak Valley Rd. farmstead, they are open two days a week — Sundays and Fridays during the spring and summer seasons.

Their mobile petting zoo has also proven to be a hit, travelling to birthday parties, fairs, Canada Day celebrations, and even starring in YouTube videos.

“The mobile setups have been very successful,” she says, identifying that aspect of the business as something that distinguishes the operation. “We are often told that our setups are the best they have seen of any petting zoo.”

Vanderlaan’s social media savvy has also been important to driving public awareness of the business. “It’s a huge part of the day to day operation,” she says. Fertile ground for capturing cute animal photos and videos, one particular clip of Vanderlaan’s sheep and goats went viral last year, garnering millions of views.

The “coolest” thing the proprietor says she’s ever done with her animals happened last year, when she was approached to help a local high school boy with his “promposal.” 

She showed up at his school with her goat ‘Baby’ in hand. The teenager created a sign for the occasion that read, ‘PR-A-A-A-M?’ His girlfriend loved goats and had never seen one up close, so it was a very special moment for them. 

“The whole school came out to see it. It was very cute!” she says.

“My daughters have been helpful, too, as I will discuss ideas about different things we should do or try with the petting zoo,” Vanderlaan says.  

There are so many animals on the farm, the family can’t keep count. “We are often asked how many animals we have. We don’t count the animals we just feed them,” the proprietor offers.

As their home, North Dundas was their “only choice” for setting up shop, she says. When she first inquired with the Township about establishing a business, almost 11 years ago, then-new councillor Eric Duncan quickly got in touch. “He was very supportive and came right out and met with me. I told him what we were hoping to do, and that’s how we began.”

Vanderlaand The Barnyard Zoo is so much more than a mere petting zoo.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the township’s 2019 Explore North Dundas Spring/Summer Resource Guide. The involved interviews took place in the first quarter of 2019.

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