Owner of West Columbia chicken plant sponsors zoo’s farm exhibit (with chickens)

House of Raeford Farms, owner of a controversial West Columbia chicken plant, is sponsoring a farm-themed petting zoo at Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens, according to a news release from the zoo.

“House of Raeford is proud to partner with Riverbanks to engage our community in educating young people about local agriculture,” said Jim Mabe, a manager for House of Raeford, according to the release.

The exhibit, which opened in April and is called The Farmyard, will show off its animals at a “summer celebration” on June 18. The Farmyard has unique varieties of goats — Nigerian dwarf, La Mancha and Saaneen — as well as Juliana pigs and, yes, chickens. Visitors can also squeeze the udders on a “life-size, automated milking cow” and sit on a tractor on-site.

House of Raeford Farms is a long-time tenant of the West Columbia riverfront, right around the corner from desirable real estate under development. The company is also one of the largest employers in Lexington County and processes around 300 million pounds of meat per year. House of Raeford also contributes often to local charities.

Zoo spokesperson Susan O’Cain said all animals for the farm came from private farms.

The zoo’s summer celebration will take place at 9:30 a.m. on June 18. Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is located at 500 Wildlife Parkway in Columbia. The Farmyard is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Isabella Cueto is a bilingual multimedia journalist covering Lexington County, one of the fastest-growing areas of South Carolina. She previously worked as a reporter for the Medill Justice Project and WLRN, South Florida’s NPR station. She is a graduate of the University of Miami, where she studied journalism and theatre arts.