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Nebraska’s Favorite Petting Zoo: Scatter Joy Acres

Are you in need of a little dose of happiness and some time spent with adorable furry friends? Look no further than Scatter Joy Acres, a nonprofit animal sanctuary located in the small town of Murray, Nebraska. This hidden gem is home to rescued animals, ranging from goats to llamas, chickens to bunnies, and everything in between. Whether you’re an animal lover, a nature enthusiast, or simply seeking a unique and joyful experience, a visit to Scatter Joy Acres is an absolute must. 

A girl pets a joey at Scatter Joy Acres in Murray, Nebraska

What is Scatter Joy Acres

Joy Bartling started Scatter Joy Acres in 2006 as a rescue for abused and neglected animals. Its original name was Soby Ranch Ministries. It grew and relocated to North Omaha, which is where I first discovered them. Scatter Joy Acres relocated a second time in 2022 to a 15-acre ranch in Murray, Neb.

The story goes that Joy “found comfort, solace, peace and even joy in the company of animals. Joy embraced her passionate gift in life which also would be a significant way to ‘give back’ to the community. Thus, ‘Scatter Joy Acres’ was created to scatter God’s joy across all of his acres.”

A boy is surrounded by donkeys at Scatter Joy Acres

Scatter Joy Acres is a working ranch 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.

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.

The friendly porcupine at the petting zoo in Murray, Nebraska

A popular area of the farm is the playground, consisting of some climbing areas, wide open green space, and other play structures. If you’re little one isn’t tuckered out and napping on the way home, I’m not sure you were at the right place!

The North Omaha location had kind of a folksy, DIY feel to it with homemade signs with positive affirmations and playful decor. There are still some signs at the new place, but with so much more space for roaming, it doesn’t have the same cozy feeling. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just different.

Related post: There are 30+ farm experiences near Omaha, from farm-to-table dinners to similar animal encounters like the ones at Scatter Joy Acres.

Where is Scatter Joy?

The new location of Scatter Joy Acres is not as convenient for those in Omaha as it once was. From Omaha, expect about a 30-mile drive, including some parts on gravel roads. There’s plenty of parking at the new location. 

Address: 4107 Waverly Road Murray, Neb.

Heads up! Scatter Joy Acres is a stop on the 2023 Nebraska Passport Program. The program runs May 1 through Sept. 30, 2023.

Why go to Scatter Joy Acres?

Kids interact with animals at Scatter Joy Acres

Reasons to visit Scatter Joy Acres, but overall, the consensus seems to be (in no particular order):

  • Lots of cute animals
  • Wide open spaces
  • Plenty of space for kids to roam and play
  • 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.

Some people go to Scatter Joy Acres to adopt an animal. And by some people, I mean my family. We’re “some people.” We adopted our Australian Shepherd mixed pup in 2020 from Scatter Joy Acres. 

A sleepy cat resting on a perch at Scatter Joy Acres

In addition to adoptable dogs, they also have a lot of cats up for adoption. You can visit them inside their enclosure and see if you make a connection with one.

Is there food available at the farm?

There are some snacks and soda available for purchase. If you’re wanting a full meal, though, I’d recommend looking for restaurants in nearby towns. 

Tip: Bring a water bottle.

We tried an old-fashioned soda fountain in downtown Plattsmouth on our way home from Murray.

Stay on the farm

Randy's Roadside Inn, a cabin located at Scatter Joy Acres in southeast Nebraska

The acreage doubles as an overnight host. A four-person cabin and a fifth-wheel camper are available to rent for overnight stays. You’re pretty close to the action at the accommodations (and visiting the petting zoo is included).

Hours and admission

The petting zoo at Scatter Joy Acres is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults (ages 12+), $10 for kids (ages 3-11) and FREE for kids 2 and younger. Cash, credit, and Venmo are accepted. Memberships are also available.

Tip: Spring is a good time to visit because of all the baby animals. On our first visit, we saw baby emu and puppies.

One of my kids attended a birthday party at Scatter Joy Acres way back pre-pandemic days. It was perfect for a group of animal-loving kids. According to the nonprofit’s website, “the ranch is available for birthday parties, corporate outings and other events. There is ample parking, picnic areas, a playground, hayrack rides, bonfires, and plenty of room for fun and games.”

An emu at Scatter Joy Acres peeks its head out from behind a gate

A visit to Scatter Joy Acres is an unforgettable experience that will leave you feeling refreshed, recharged, and with a big smile on your face. Whether you’re looking to spend a few hours or a whole day at the sanctuary, there’s no shortage of things to do and see. So why not plan your visit today and come see for yourself what makes Scatter Joy Acres such a special place? Trust me, you won’t regret it!

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Pamela McKuen

Tuesday 19th of May 2020

I love the mission of Scatter Joy Acres. I don't think I would be too eager to let a porcupine sit in my lap, though!

Jennifer Ciha

Tuesday 19th of May 2020

This looks like so much fun! It's so neat how the animals are used to help people. What a fantastic story!

Laura Weers

Monday 18th of May 2020

What a fun family experience.

Tiffany from Mommy And Me Travels

Monday 18th of May 2020

This place looks like so much fun. Oh and that turtle is huge! My boys really enjoy visiting places like this. We will have to leave it on our list of places to visit if we get back into Omaha.

Cindy Ladage

Sunday 17th of May 2020

What a fun way to get out safely and enjoy a family day out.

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