maui animal farm & petting zoo: unleash the inner keiki in all of us

animalfarm_1There are some things that just naturally go together: peanut butter & jelly, macaroni & cheese, cake & ice cream. In the non-food world, there are also things that go together—like kids and animals. Who can resist the joy and wonder on the face of a child when he or she holds a baby goat, a guinea pig, or even a chicken or a tortoise? All this and more awaits visitors of all ages at Maui Animal Farm and Petting Zoo on the hill above Launiupoko, where you can take a guided tour to meet, learn about, and feed some irresistible furry and feathered friends.

The petting zoo, which was founded by Teresa Waters and originally named Lahaina Animal Farm, was acquired in September by business partners Heidi Denecke and Heather Harkness-Pastrana, and renamed Maui Animal Farm and Petting Zoo. Heidi is a leisure sales manager for Classic Resorts, and Heather is a riding instructor and horse trainer. They first met at a horse show three years ago, and discovered they both had a vision for a multipurpose equestrian center on Maui’s west side. They plan to establish the West Maui Equestrian Center, which will offer riding lessons for all ages, along with therapeutic riding programs and facilities for polo matches. An animal education center was also part of their plans, so when Teresa Waters approached them about taking over the petting zoo, Heidi and Heather jumped at the opportunity.

MAF offers daily public and private cultural experiences and a petting zoo from 9:30 to 11am, as well as private tours and birthday parties by appointment. Tours are conducted by Nis Adave, who lives on the farm, along with her husband and two young sons, and cares for the animals. Originally from Mexico, Nis graduated from Lahainaluna High School, returned to Mexico, got married, then returned to Lahaina. “When we got engaged, I told my [now] husband, ‘I want to live away from the city surrounded by animals.’ Here we’re doing exactly that. This is the perfect place for us, and the perfect job for me.”

Nis welcomes us to MAF, along with two turkeys, Tom and Tom Jr. Tom Turkey is displaying his full plumage, but Tom Jr. is hanging out on the sidelines. Nis explains that Tom is the dominant turkey at the farm, and when he pecks at Tom Jr., “he’s telling him ‘I’m the man here. Don’t you get all fluffed up.’” She says there’s no need to feel sorry for Tom Jr., however. “His priority is food,” she says with a laugh.

We head to a corral where Nis introduces us to Tita, a 12-year-old Clydesdale thoroughbred quarter horse. “When you approach Tita, put your face up to her nose and blow on it lightly,” Nis instructs. “Horses get to know each other and people by their breath, just like Hawaiians.” Nis distributes carrot sticks so everyone can feed Tita.

Next we meet Rebel, a miniature horse stallion. Rebel holds the 2006 Hi-Point Stallion Foal A designation. “He’s the real deal in the miniature horse world,” says Nis. Rebel’s companion is named Baby Doll, their offspring is named Kisses, and they are all absolutely adorable. Across the way is Ramsey, a self-shedding sheep, who sheds his coat seasonally by rubbing himself on the fence.

Over at the pig pen, two types await us: a kunekune pig named Happy, and a wild pig named Honey Girl. “Kunekune pigs make great pets because they’re smaller than other pigs and are easy-going animals,” Nis says. When we’re given an opportunity to feed Happy, she says, “Happy doesn’t just get his carrots automatically; he has to work for them. So hold the carrot up over his head and say, ‘Up, Happy, Up!’” Happy has one of those so-ugly-it’s-cute faces, sort of like a bulldog, and he’s happy (no pun intended) to oblige by putting his feet up on the fence to receive his carrots. And I think I detect a little smile on his face!

Nis explains that pigs don’t sweat, so most of them enjoy taking mud baths to keep cool and keep the flies away. “But Happy and Honey Girl are a bit different, and they actually like to take a bath in the metal tub over there.”

Adjacent to the pigs is the goat corral. “Just last Friday, my son’s teacher at Sacred Hearts School called me to say a baby goat appeared out of nowhere in the parking lot, and she asked if I could take it,” Nis tells us. Fortunately, mama goat Love Bug still has milk, and she has adopted the baby goat. Nis gives everyone on the tour an opportunity to hold the baby goat, then watch it feed, compliments of Love Bug.

Next door at the chicken coop, the inhabitants are clucking up a storm, as though they know they’re next up on the tour. In the hen house, Nis explains why there are wooden eggs and golf balls in some of the nests. “It keeps the girls in the mood for laying,” she says. “I collect the eggs every day; we sell them, and keep some for ourselves to eat.” Nis demonstrates how to pick up and hold a chicken, and everyone who wishes to do so follows suit.

Nis announces it’s time for a break in the shade. We wash up at an outdoor sink, then Nis provides us with refreshingly cold water to drink and, naturally, animal crackers.

We head over to a pond, where the keiki on the tour are given the opportunity to participate in an egg hunt: plastic eggs have been stuffed with stickers and other goodies, and hidden in the foliage. Then it’s time to fish for tadpoles, while observing the several species of “designer” chickens wandering about—some have poufy feathered heads, others have exotic mottled feathers, and one even lays blue eggs!

Out of the corner of my eye I spy an enormous desert tortoise lumbering towards us. “That’s Tonka,” says Nis. “He weighs about one hundred pounds. Over there is Mrs. T. She’s Tonka’s ‘wife.’ Be sure to step aside when Tonka comes your way, or he’ll roll right over you. He can really cover ground when he’s going after Mrs. T.”

The tour finishes with an introduction to two red-footed tortoises, Hunk and Lucy, who are considerably smaller than Tonka and Mrs. T. Their digs are shady and jungle-like, similar to this species’ natural environment in the Amazon Basin in South America. Much to everyone’s delight, Nis announces a tortoise race! She enlists two keiki to hold Hunk and Lucy while she zips the lid off a can of cat food to use as bait. On the count of three, they’re off! Everyone shouts the name of their favorite contestant, and while Hunk goes straight for the prize, Lucy gets a bit off track. After a lot of coaxing, she at last meets up with Hunk for a tasty treat.

It’s been a super fun and eventful morning at Maui Animal Farm. And I’m not sure who has enjoyed themselves more…the keiki, the adults, or the animals themselves!

–heidi pool



Maui Animal Farm and Petting Zoo, where keiki of all ages can learn about, feed, and even hold dozens of friendly common and rare farm animals. Tours cost $25 per person. Private tours, birthday parties, and riding lessons are also available.


108 S. Lauhoe Place, Lahaina, above Launiupoko Beach Park.


Public tours are conducted daily from 9:30 to 11am.


For information and reservations:




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