AS I SEE IT:  Animal Instincts

Work responsibilities, aging parents, motherhood, menopause — I don’t know about you, but for me, midlife can be stressful at times. When my world gets overwhelming, and I need to stop and take a moment to relax, unplug and unwind, I’ve found the perfect place to do just that: The Farm at Walnut Creek near Sugarcreek, Ohio.

The Farm at Walnut Creek is a working farm run by two Amish families. It is billed as a “petting zoo,” but it’s so much more intense than the typical such venue.

Domestic and exotic animals live together peaceably and give visitors an unparalleled opportunity to interact with them. Admission is $11.75 for adults and $8.75 for children, with an additional small fee for the wagon ride, which I highly recommend. For this price, you get an hour-long, horse-drawn wagon ride over two and a half miles of pathway through the hundreds of acres of this fascinating animal preserve. Also included are unlimited trips over the same pathway in your own vehicle, as well as access to all animal exhibits and other farm attractions. I can’t think of a cheaper form of therapy!

The giraffes welcome a wagon of visitors.

My husband, though he gets his fair share of animal contact at his job, is always indulgent of my Dr. Doolittle-like need to spend time among the animals. So on a cool morning, we headed to The Farm so I could heed the call of the wild.

Without question, our favorite part of the visit is driving leisurely through the grounds in our car, getting up close and  personal with all sorts of friendly, food-motivated beasts. These large critters will eagerly invade your personal space in search of the bowl of oat and soy pellets that The Farm provides for feeding the residents. They open their mouths wide in anticipation as you hand-feed them this treat, slobbering and snorting as you pet their stocky heads and attempt to dodge their massive horns.

Although I understand that this scenario may not appeal to some readers, to me it’s a delightful slice of heaven on Earth. (As is the oatmeal pie at Der Dutchman restaurant. Be sure to ask for it warmed and ala mode! But I digress. …) I’ve been a lover of most all animals since the time I could walk. In fact, my mother banned me from watching Marlon Perkins on Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” as a kid, because I was sure to sob hysterically when a wild cat took down some innocent member of the deer family. This, of course, was many years before I learned about Simba and the Circle of Life.

The author enjoying a friendly kiss from a resident.

Growing up in the country outside of Wheeling, I had many opportunities to get to know all sorts of wildlife and farm animals. I once even had a brief encounter in my own backyard with Beth, an American Bison who famously escaped from Oglebay’s Good Zoo back in the late 1970s. Beth spent some time grazing freely in the fields and pastures near our home during her time on the lam.

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So I think the draw of The Farm at Walnut Creek, for me personally, is that it takes me right back to a simpler time of my life. I’ve never been bothered by animal drool, fur or droppings. I spent 11 years working in a veterinary clinic, where my love of animals literally paid off. I would often find myself marveling at the fact that I was actually being paid to interact with my furry friends. But now that I spend my work week at a computer screen, I sometimes find myself longing for the pleasure that only animals can bring me.

I love our clowder of house cats dearly and spend a lot of time at home snuggling them every day. However, there’s something magical about the gental giants at The Farm. American Bison, water buffalo, watusi, Brahma, eland, Scotch Highland cattle and many others mingle together and wait impatiently for the wagons to arrive, bearing visitors clutching buckets of food. The emus and ostriches are particularly demanding and will actually chase the wagons as they pull away. If you aren’t careful, they will steal the food bucket out of your hands and carry it off. Feeding them and the other creatures from my hand connects me to my inner child and brings joy to my soul.

Clockwise from top center: brahma; bison; watusi; eland; and water buffalo.

The Farm at Walnut Creek is an incredible day trip that’s suitable for the entire family. Levi Yoder, our wagon driver, told us that The Farm attracts visitors of all ages from all over the United States as well as from many other countries. It would seem then that animal therapy is universal. Time spent in the company of animals is never wasted.

Driver Levi Yoder with his team, Ted and Frank.

The Farm is open daily from spring through fall, and is open year-round by appointment. They also offer many seasonal events and activities, including spring and fall special events and winter sleigh rides.  For more information, call 330-893-4200.

A wagon of visitors enters the 2 1/2-mile pathway through The Farm.

A lifelong Wheeling resident, Ellen Brafford McCroskey is a proud graduate of Wheeling Park High School and the former Wheeling Jesuit College. By day, she works for an international law firm; by night, (and often on her lunch breaks and weekends) she enjoys moonlighting as a part-time writer. Please note that the views expressed in her writing are solely her own and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else, including her full-time employer. Through her writing, Ellen aims to enlighten others on causes close to her heart, particularly addiction, recovery and equal rights. She and her husband Doug reside in Warwood with their clowder of rescued cats, each of whom is a direct consequence of his job as the Ohio County Dog Warden. Their family includes four adult children, their spouses and several grandkids.