Tyler Quinn scooped up a chicken and cradled it in his arms. • "It's like mine is taking a nap," he told his classmates as he gave the bird a kiss on the head. • Then, because he is 5, Tyler thrust the chicken, beak first, into another boy's face. • "Bwowk, bwowk, bwooowk," he mimicked. • Maybe it's time to move on to the baby goats, a volunteer suggested. A dozen giddy kindergarteners fled the coop, leaving behind a flock of dazed birds in their wake. • Welcome to Old McMicky's Farm. Closed for several years, the decades-old favorite destination of children across Tampa Bay is open again. And the animals are ready.
Nestled on several acres of Camp Keystone in northwestern Hillsborough County, the farm features more than 60 animals, a scenic setting and a restored barn for events.
"Today is such a fast-paced society that I wanted to create something where families can come and have a great time in more of an old-fashioned way," said owner Ralph Zuckerman, 53, of Palm Harbor.
Opened in 1991, Old McMicky's Farm went up for sale in 2006. Zuckerman, a home builder, bought the land with plans to build houses on it.
Instead, he waited.
"For several years I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it," he said. "Then I decided I wanted to give back to the Tampa Bay area."
Still, it took two more years to whip the farm back into shape.
"It was very rundown," Zuckerman said. "Most of what you see here is new."
Camp Keystone, which opened in 1946 and once served as a popular summer sleep-away camp, is still there, but is only available for private rentals and corporate picnics.
Last week, kindergarten and first-grade students, including Tyler, from Oakstead Elementary in Land O'Lakes, gave the farm a test run before it officially opened to the public.
"It's a good place for the kids to learn how farmers support our lives and the role animals play," said Tyler's dad, Michael Quinn, who tagged along on the 2 1/2-hour field trip.
And there's plenty to do.
At the milking station, kids not only learn about milking a cow but have a chance to do it themselves. Next door is the baby barn, filled with the farm's youngest residents. Above it, a loft maze provides an outlet for the seemingly endless energy of visiting children.
In the rabbit pen, a dozen little hands descend upon two soft bunnies. A visit to the baby pygmy goats next door elicited shrieks of delight and several "it's eating my hair!" squeals.
And at the pony station, everyone got a chance to ride a pony.
"It's great to see the amazement on their faces," Zuckerman said. "Most of these kids have never held a chicken, and you can see their faces light up. They are learning to have an appreciation for animals."
Along the way, guides provide details on the animals and how they are cared for. Many of the same people who worked at the farm before it closed in 2006 have joined the team again, Zuckerman said.
In an effort to give back to the community, Zuckerman introduced a program called 1,000 kids.
"We want to bring 1,000 kids who are facing any type of challenge, whether it is a physical, health or mental challenge," Zuckerman said. "Bring them out for an amazing day on the farm at no charge."
Zuckerman has reached out to several area nonprofit groups and is open to working with others, including wounded veterans.
"The farm is very peaceful," Zuckerman said. "It's very healing."
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.