About Jo-Don Farms
Scroll down to read about who we are, where we came from, and what to expect from us in the future. This page is a work in progress. Return soon and find historic and rare photos from our past, links to videos of our animal performances and commercials, and bios of our animal friends.
Where we came from.
Don Meyer loved animals and had a passion for connecting people with the wider world around them. He began a lifelong career of animal training and care at just six years old. In the summers, he would work at his uncle’s farm in northern Wisconsin. At home, he raised chickens and rabbits and helped his stepfather, a successful blacksmith, with horses at the state fairs.
As a young adult, Don mastered equestrian and falconry work, and his exceptional talents became renown as he traveled throughout the country to work at and consult with zoos. Most notably, he had a talent for training horses deemed unworkable. His reputation for animal training led to the Milwaukee Zoological Society requesting his assistance with their first elephant at the Washington Part Zoo in 1960. There, he spent his lunch breaks watching the elephants interact with each other and learning how to interact with them. His success there led him to the Albuquerque Zoo in New Mexico where he helped hone its elephant training program, and from there, became a general animal trainer and then curator for the zoo for a few years.
Don returned to Wisconsin to spend more time with this son and turned his interests towards more philanthropic endeavors, serving as curator for the zoo portion of The Ranch in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. The Ranch was a rehabilitation center that helped handicapped and at-risk youth with skills training and work development. With the responsibilities inherent in animal care, he taught young men the importance of discipline, organization, and goal-setting.
In 1975, Don founded Jo-Don Farms, building on his wealth of experience to provide a unique, small-scale zoo experience through petting zoos at malls and fairs. He grew the company from a small collection of goats, sheep, llamas and donkeys, to a thriving, on-site zoo. He also continued to provided a safe place where at-risk youth could work and develop into successful adults.
Don passed his love for animals and helping people, as well as the company, on to his son, Bob. Like his father, Bob has worked throughout the country with over one hundred zoos, animal sanctuaries, and family farms. His background with animals began when he was just two years old, riding Tennessee Walking Horses. He remembers going to the Washington Park Zoo to watch Don clean animal exhibits, traveling with him to New Mexico to help with training, and developing his own falconry skills in their garage, all before the age of ten.
Bob joined Don at The Ranch on weekends, where he learned to work with a wide variety of animals, construct harnesses, and drive teams of mules. At sixteen years old, Bob started working with and training The Ranch’s first elephants and transporting large cats.
Bob completed schooling at Boys Tech and UW Milwaukee-extension to become a structural steel detailer, pursuing his passion for developing and drawing buildings for five years. In 1977, he hung up his tie and began to work with Jo-Don Farms, running petting zoos in malls all over the country. Five years into his involvement, Jo-Don Farms began working with more exotic animals through educational programs. After seven years of traveling, with Don facing retirement.
After seven years of traveling with petting zoos and exotics, Bob was hired by the Lowry Park Zoo for consultation on the operation of its camel rides. The director there was impressed with Bob’s work and began to give him more responsibilities and wider exposure to the animal world. He became a general consultant for the Lowry Park Zoo, developing its elephant holding buildings and training programs and continuing to improve its ride areas. He began to help zoos with animal transports, exhibit and ride layout and design, and training protocols. Seeing how commercialized and impersonal municipal zoos have become, he turned his attention back to Jo-Don Farms, making it more accessible to the public with its on-site, up-close animal encounters.
Where we are at.
Jo-Don Farms is celebrating its 42nd anniversary this year, and after several decades of hard work, we are proud to be standing where we are. Bob continues his role at Jo-Don Farms to date as president and co-owner of the company, and with the loving help of his stepmother Joan, his daughters Danielle and Alex have started taking on a more prominent role in carrying the business forward.
The company’s longstanding status as a privately-funded zoo allows Jo-Don Farms to accept animals from rescues or police confiscations more readily than a public zoo, but it also means that Jo-Don Farms receives no state or federal funding towards its efforts. Instead, it relies on public support through patronage at our events, and on a team of hard-working employees who have dedicated themselves to the welfare of animals.
Our off-site work continues to connect people from all over the country, with animals from all over the world, year-round. From camel rides at convention centers in Los Angeles, to exotic animal displays at universities in New York, these exhibits keep our animals fed and warm through the winter months.
Finally, The Zoo at Jo-Don Farms continues to grow and enhance its family friendly experience with each season. This summer, all of the entertainment from previous years continues, and we have taken guests comments into consideration to provide improved encounters from one visit to the next. Our various feeding options, including buckets with produce, remain, and our pony ride area has been upgraded for more riding fun. With educational programs on-site and featured camel rides throughout the season, we plan to make this year at The Zoo the best one yet! Our animals at Jo-Don Farms are as much a part of our family as the people we work alongside. We greatly appreciate your support and hope you pay us a visit this season. To quote Don, “If you’re not careful, you might learn something.”
Where we are going.
Danielle and Alex spent their childhood living on The Zoo at Jo-Don Farms with a front row seat to the kind of hard work and compassion the animal industry requires to be successful. They are excited to carry both Bob and Don’s legacies into the company’s third generation of management.
Jo-Don Farms is focusing on enhancing its quality of service to patrons, and growing The Zoo as both a loving home for its family of animals, and an educational experience for its guests. Several of our exhibits are receiving facelifts this year, and going forward we want to increase guest interaction with our handleable critters through demonstrations, evening camel rides, and informal tours.
Further down the road, we are developing plans for a summer day-camp as well as evening fundraising events for local charities.
Our animals are loving, charming, feisty creatures and each one deserves the absolute best care it can receive. With the support of our guests and clients, Jo-Don Farms will carry on the family tradition of excellent animal training and care into its third generation, and beyond!
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