The Hidden Petting Zoo In The City: Scatter Joy Acres

There’s a 26-acre ranch that has long been Omaha’s best-kept secret. Scatter Joy Acres is a working farm and petting zoo tucked among trees in the middle of Omaha. I’ve only recently “discovered” it, but it turns out, many of my friends have already known about it and loved it.

Petting emus at Scatter Joy Acres in Omaha Nebraska

What is Scatter Joy Acres

Joy Bartling started Scatter Joy Acres in 2005/2006 as a rescue for abused and neglected animals. Its original name was Soby Ranch Ministries. It grew and relocated to its current location in north Omaha.

Scatter Joy Acres is now a working ranch with more than 100 animals including pigs, horses, goats, alpacas, peafowl, cows, emu, sheep, and a pretty interesting camel. Animals are kept in pins that visitors are allowed to let themselves into (except for a few areas that are well-marked).

While you’ll encounter most of those animals at the petting zoo, some are involved in therapy sessions for developmentally-disabled, seniors, at-risk children, and veterans.

Porcupine at Scatter Joy Acres in Omaha, Neb.

We talked with a volunteer at the farm who introduced us to the porcupine who is often used in teaching kids. The porcupine looked pretty intimidating, but it turns out, she’s rather friendly. She might even crawl into your lap!

I didn’t cuddle a porcupine during our visit, alas. But she did eat a turnip out of my hand, so that was a win.

Why go to Scatter Joy Acres?

The last few months have been stressful for everyone, so the idea of visiting a farm, with its wide open spaces and cute baby animals, really really appealed to me. It turned out, it was the prescription my whole family needed.

A donkey eats at Scatter Joy Acres

We finally felt at ease. There was room to roam. There were animals to pet.

I can think of many reasons to go to Scatter Joy on top of just needing a break from pandemic hysteria:

  • It’s educational. Think of it as a field trip.
  • It’s therapeutic. Just try not to smile back when a camel grins at you.
  • It’s supporting a good cause. Many of these animals are rescue animals that get a new life now as therapy animals.

Is there food available at the farm?

The main reason my family left before we felt totally ready to leave was that we were hungry (OK, the main reason was they were closing for the day and ready to kick us out, but the second reason was that we were hungry).

This place is more farm than attraction, so you won’t find a snack shack or concession stand. There is a vending machine.

We were pretty thirsty by the end of our visit and the water fountain wasn’t working, so I’d suggest bringing a bottle of water or being prepared to buy one.

A barn at Scatter Joy Acres in Omaha, Nebraska

The farm during COVID-19

Here’s is Scatter Joy’s statement in regards to the pandemic:

“Scatter Joy Acres is proactively working to protect the health of our guests and our animals. We remain open and events are continuing as scheduled. SJA will modify our response to the situation as needed. Our plan regarding Coronavirus includes closely monitoring national, state, and local health authorities for recommendations regarding safe operations.

Donkeys at Scatter Joy Acres

“SJA will follow the recommendations regarding safety and precautionary measures issued by the CDC, Douglas County Health Department, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. All volunteers have been asked to help prevent the spread of disease by taking steps to reduce the transmission of infectious disease in the workplace.

  • “The best strategy remains common sense; frequent hand washing with warm, soapy water for a minimum of 30 seconds; covering your mouth whenever you sneeze or cough; and discarding used tissues in wastebaskets.
  • “SJA has always provided hand sanitizer for volunteers and guests and will continue that practice.”
  • “SJA volunteers are asked not report to work while they are ill.

“Guests are asked not to come while they are ill.”

A volunteer at Scatter Joy Acres holds a baby emu

Volunteers do not wear masks at Scatter Joy, so if that concerns you, it would be best to wait to visit.

The acreage is spacious so it’s pretty easy to practice social-distancing, as long as you are patient entering and leaving a pen. A few spaces are narrow, especially in the barn near the rabbits, so it’s harder to practice social distancing if someone is already in that space.

Just have patience.

Hours and admission

For the general public, you’ll want to keep tabs on tithe petting zoo hours. For the spring and summer (March 1 to Aug. 31), the hours are Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m.

Goats at Scatter Joy Acres, a petting zoo in Omaha

Tip: Spring is a good time to visit because of all the baby animals. When we were there, we saw baby emu and puppies.

The fall petting zoo hours (Sept. 1 to Oct. 31) are Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m.

Winter Hours (Nov. 1 to Feb. 28 or 29) and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

We went on a Sunday and had no problem seeing all of the animals in about two hours. Of course, we could’ve spent more time there, so I’d recommend planning to spend three or four hours there.

We left only because we were hungry and had missed lunch…and well, they were trying to close.

An up-close look at a tortoise at Scatter Joy Acres in Omaha, Nebraska

Admission is $7 per person on weekdays and $10 per person on the weekend. Children younger than 2 are admitted FREE.

Where is Scatter Joy?

Interestingly enough, I lived fairly near Scatter Joy Acres for years without knowing it. I moved this spring and only after I moved further away from it did I finally visit. You don’t have to be like me.

Address: 4966 Newport Ave., Omaha

There’s plenty of parking, though I imagine once the secret gets out, that might not always be the case.

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Where to find more animals in Nebraska

Can’t get enough of animals with a single visit to a farm? Here are more places to find animals throughout Nebraska:

OmahaOmaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. While there isn’t a petting zoo per se, there are places with animal encounters, including goats at the Children’s Adventure Trails, sting rays at Sting Ray Bay, and starfish and other sea creatures at the aquarium.

Ashland – The Nebraska Wildlife Safari is primarily a drive-through safari, but there is a chance to stop and visit a petting zoo with goats and chickens (though, it is temporarily closed due to COVID-19).

LincolnLincoln Children’s Zoo has many opportunities to see animals up-close. This zoo is made with kids in mind.

You don't have to venture too far in Nebraska to find a working farm! Here's a guide to Scatter Joy Acres in Omaha, Nebraska. Learn about the animals, mission, and when to visit this unique petting zoo at a ranch. #Nebraska #FamilyTravel #Farm #PettingZoo #Animals

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Looking for an off-the-beaten-path fun outing in Omaha? Scatter Joy Acres may be Omaha's best-kept secret. Learn about this petting zoo and working ranch and the rescue animals that live there. #Omaha #Nebraska #FamilyTime #FamilyTravel #FarmLife

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