Dear Friends in Michigan Agriculture,


I am writing today to provide you with an important and exciting update on the Critter Barn’s new farm and our invitation for you to be involved with the new farm we are building. For thirty years, our farm has attracted school children and visitors of all ages. We are a small working farm.


There are so many people who need a place like the Critter Barn to simply enjoy nature, to explore, to wonder, and to learn. We teach about how food is grown, so people leave with a feeling of gratitude for the work of the farmer and all those who work to provide our food. It’s our goal to inspire others with the stories of Agriculture and to help deepen the respect for living things. We have been hard at work to expand our mission and our work – but we can’t do it without your help.


I hope you will take a few minutes to review the below email that contains some of our stories, achievements, goals and impacts on the community we serve. I also urge you to consider supporting our efforts as we expand with new and improved facilities to help teach Michigan children, as well as educate people about agriculture.


Mary Rottschafer is an educator. She graduated from Hope College with a major in Music and in Elementary Education. She taught 3rd and 4th grades at Holland Christian and worked in church music for 25 years. Her passion for nature and science grew from her childhood garden to this farm, which began in 1984 after her family moved to “live out in the country.” In 1990 she founded the Critter Barn.

How Critter Barn Began...


A surprise party in 1984, planned by a group of friends, changed the course of our lives forever. With a freshly painted barn and a few animals, our farm experience began very unexpectedly.


For 30 years the Critter Barn has served children and young people through a working farm by teaching, coaching volunteers, mentoring students and adults, serving as role models, and caring for farm animals and gardens.

Currently we reach over 100,000 people annually through farm visits, education classes and our Farm On the Go program.

The Critter Barn is a hub of activity where growing friendships, gaining knowledge and serving others is the "ultimate harvest." The blend of Hands-On Learning, offering volunteer experiences for everyone, focusing on Agricultural education, and for everyone’s benefit, designing a new facility that is totally inclusive, is a winning combination for all.

Our Mission:  Critter Barn is dedicated to teaching about farming and agriculture while inspiring people of all ages, and all abilities, through the miracles in nature found at the farm.


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Why Are We Building? 

Hands-On Learning

Critter Barn provides the right environment for children and young people to “learn by doing.” Real farm work, problem solving, adapting to changing weather on a farm, or managing unexpected triplet lambs - whatever occurs, our students, volunteers, Vet-Tech students, interns and guests encounter memorable learning experiences every day.


Story Of Agriculture - Growing Our Food

At the New Critter Barn, our theme is “Farmers Feed the World.” People of all ages will explore our working farm while they learn the stories of Family Farms from around our State, the US and the world. With the help of producers involved in developing countries, friends of the Critter Barn, and supporters from Michigan Agribusiness, we will continue to be a voice to the general public and children of all ages. International flags will be flown in front of our Welcome Center representing the countries featured in our teaching.

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In 2009, Critter Barn was fortunate to partner with Michigan Allied Poultry to establish a small demonstration Layer Hen building on our current site. This Enriched Cage Model and photo display taught our students and guests about commercial egg production. Because this model has been so successful in starting conversations about production agriculture, our new farm will have demonstration models for these commodities: hogs, dairy cattle, beef cattle, poultry--turkey, broiler, layer, and sheep.

The vision for the Critter Barn’s new farm is unique, providing both the nostalgic setting of a family farm and a group of barns showcasing today’s modern best practices. The celebration of our agricultural heritage through barns built “post and beam” or like iconic barns of the last century, lend themselves to hands-on activities. Our modern facilities will incorporate bio-security, demonstrations for the public, but also, training for students from area Vet-tech programs, area schools, FFA (Future Farmers of America chapters), interns, and our own advanced volunteers. We’ve added parking, safety, improved accessibility, overnight lodging, opportunities for special events, rentals, and more to the new plans.


We are committed to share your story, to promote agriculture, and be advocates for the farmers and producers who faithfully provide our food supply.


Timeline and Costs... 


Our first barn is under construction now, and we are planning to have enough barns and facilities completed by the end of March so we can plan to move our current operation to the New Farm in mid-May of 2021.


Included in this 1st Phase:

Total cost $2,589,000 ($2,511,000 raised) $78,000 left to go!

Gambrel Post & Beam

Enclosed picnic area

Small Goat Barn

Boer Goat Barn

Poultry Hut

Chicken Coop

Pot Bellied Pig Barn

Duck Hut and pool

Dry Compost area

Sheep Hoop Barn

Raised Drain field

Retention Pond

Roads, parking lot

Site preparation


Phase 2: Estimated Cost of Phase 2 - $2,100,000


The modern barn models will be built plus the Grain Mill and the Welcome Center. Modern barn models will be “state of the art” facilities, showing today’s best practices in agriculture. The scale will be suited to the Critter Barn, with enough livestock to teach:

20 dairy cows

15 sows

500-layer hens

100 turkeys

100 broiler chickens

50 breeding ewes

Phase 3: Estimated Cost of Phase 3 - $1,600,000

We will add an Event Center, our Bunkhouses, and a Barn to serve as a school building for younger children. The programs in these facilities provide critical sources of revenue which are key to the sustainability of our organization.

Special Friends Program

We believe that every child deserves the support necessary to learn, participate and grow. We are grateful for the opportunities to combine farm based hands-on experiences with therapeutic education and give students the support they need to succeed and feel fulfilled. Over 100 young people and adults are served through Critter Barn's Special Friends Program. 

Meet Jenna... 

"The staff makes me feel welcome and they inspire me. I wanna give a shout out to all the staff members and Mr. Wally, I love him so much, he’s my favorite guy ever. My favorite chores are when Gamby and me feed cats; I’m a cat person. Of course I love to milk goats with the milk people. I want to give a shout out too Megan, Makayla and Emma.”  - Jenna, 14, Special Friends Program

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"Jenna comes to volunteer every week, shows up on time, wears her uniform, and expectations are high, which prepares her for life,” her mother says. Jenna is dependable, enjoys doing chores and has grown confidence to speak with guests. As she recites the names of the staff, our team approach is reflected as her smiles and comments reveal the deep friendship she has with each person.


Participants who are elderly:

Our Critters on Wheels program travels to area retirement homes, nursing homes, memory units and private care homes.



The smiles and retelling of stories of "days back at our farm" are precious to experience. The therapeutic benefit is unmeasurable.


Inclusive Design - A farm for ALL

We began our quest for a new farm with a conversation at Ottawa Area Center in Allendale, Michigan. "Imagine a place of inspiration for everyone...what will it take for your students to come to the farm?” The answers are complex, but they are in our plans.

UNIVERSAL DESIGN sets out to improve the usability, safety and health of all users. It dares us to look beyond differences in physical, visual, auditory, cognitive and speech abilities, and go beyond ADA or local accessibility standards. Universal Design is the idea that a campus, building or product can be created in a way that makes it usable by a diverse range of people. We applaud the Critter Barn and its leadership in continuing its quest for creating facilities that are more accessible and move to compliance with Universal Design principles. Critter Barn is creating a truly inclusive environment to fully realize their mission: all ages and all abilities.  - Mike Perry, Progressive A/E


Adaptive equipment will be provided by the Rifton Company. Our goal is to enable every person to attend and enjoy our farm.

It's our Mission, (a paraphrase)
a farm for all ages and all abilities

where everyone will have a great time!


Playground Equipment 

Inviting children of all abilities to participate will make playtime inclusive and enjoyable. This is a view of a ramp (instead of steps) leading to slides.


Equipment from Game Time (through the Sinclair Company) will add an inclusive play area to our farm. Critter Barn’s younger visitors need an occasional place for play, a place for a break from organized activities, even a place to play while others finish their lunch break – or while a busy mom has a chance to sit and rest!

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Lets Grow Together!


MABA (Michigan Agribusiness Association) has endorsed the Critter Barn’s vision. Pictured here is President Chuck Lippstreu and Critter Barn Founder and Director, Mary Rottschafer on October 24, at the Critter Barn’s Foundation Celebration, which was held at the new farm property, 2950 80th Avenue, Zeeland, MI.


AON Foundation

AIS Equipment

Big Dutchman

Cargill Kitchen Solutions

Community Foundation

   of Holland-Zeeland

County Farm Bureaus

   Allegan & Ottawa

Dairy Council of Michigan

Hop Agency FB Ins

Heffron Farms

Greenstone Farm

    Credit Services

Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch

Konos Eggs


Michigan Allied Poultry

Michigan Wheat Program

Meijer Foundation

Meeuwsen Family

Rosine, Thomas

Schipper Eggs, LLC

Siedman Family

Spring Meadow Nursery

Timmerman, David


Vanden Bosch, Harv

Vander Kooi, John

Veneklasen, Howard

Ventura Manufacturing

Walcott Farms

Walters Gardens, Inc

Zeeland Farm Services

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This graph shows the support raised and needed for Phase I to relocate the current farm. Total estimated project cost for all phases of the new 36 acre farm is $6ML.

“While our sustainability depends on farming, our souls can be fed by experiences in creation. What a privilege we have! For 30 years I’ve seen God’s hand at work through this 3-acre farm. I marvel to think what he will do in the next 30 years as they follow His lead. Given the situations of 2020, the therapeutic benefit from “time at the farm” and the interaction with animals will be good for everyone!“   - Harv Vanden Bosch