West Virginia farm has lions, tigers

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Mary Childress
Daily Mail staff
Monday October 30, 2006

SUMMERSVILLE — It’s a farm like no other in West Virginia. There are lions and tigers and camels and kangaroos and more.

The Good Evening Ranch and Feed Box is located just minutes from Summersville off U.S. 19. It has been a working farm for about 12 years while the exotic animals in the zoo were added about five years ago.

It’s open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and closed Sunday. Fees for visiting the zoo are $3 per person.

“When we started here, we were breeding horses,” said farm manager Cindy Adkins, “but then Tom (Kamm), the owner, saw a baby camel he just had to have and that started our exotics. That was about five years ago, and we’ve been growing ever since.”

Adkins was hired by Kamm on a temporary basis over the phone. “That was almost 13 years ago,” the 47-year-old said. “I was supposed to fill in till he got back to the ranch. I screwed up, didn’t I? I should have known right then to leave.”

She and Kamm have known each other forever and work well together. For a boss he’s a pretty good guy, she said. Kamm’s family was in the mining business years ago, and before he owned the farm he was in the insurance and banking business and owned a motel in Summersville.

Akins grew up in Greenbrier County where her grandfather, “Pawpaw Charlie,” brought her her first horse, she said. She’s been around horses all her life and even worked the rodeo circuit for a short time. Now her special ranch hand is her almost 3-year old granddaughter, Jade, who helps with the horses and even in the restaurant on occasion.

Adkins started at the farm by raising pintos and quarter horses. She learned to care for the exotics the hard way — by doing.

“Tom just likes to be different,” she said. “Most of the animals we have now were purchased when they were babies, and almost all of them have been bottle-fed.”

The zoo has a U.S. Department of Agriculture license to keep the wild animals, and the facility is inspected once a year. Adkins and the zoo employees keep strict records on worming and vaccinations of all the animals as required by law.

Shania the camel, the first exotic animal on the farm, is now 5 years old.

“She’s a sweetheart,” Adkins said. “We bottle-fed her right from the start. We added Clyde, a male camel, a couple of years ago. You have to watch out for him; he can be mean. We may try to breed these two next spring.”

The lions, Leo and Cleo, were brought to the zoo as cubs and were fun to play with when they were little. Now, said Adkins, they weigh more than 400 pounds each. When they have to be vaccinated, the farm workers have learned to do it quickly.

“We get them close to the fence by enticing them with a chicken. As they grab for the birds, I get as close as I can to them and plunge the needle in. I’ve learned to be real fast.”

They vaccinate the tigers, Tigger and Too, the same way.

On the more than 660 acres are emus and ostriches, miniature Brahma bulls, pigmy goats, monkeys of all types, Dahl sheep, a couple of Jacob’s rams, and a zebra named Zeb.

All the animals have been named by either Adkins or Kamm.

“There are probably hundreds of animals here if you count all the ducks, swans and birds, but we haven’t counted in a long time,” she said.

All the fields have sheds where the animals can find shelter from rain or cold. And the lions have heated housing attached to their large cage and outdoor area. The kangaroos, Daisy and Skippy, as well as other animals that are used to warmer weather, are usually brought into the barn when it gets really cold.

The animals are also rotated in the fields so that every type gets access to good grasslands.

The lions and tigers eat 40 to 60 chickens a day. Adkins says they could feed all the other animals on what it costs to feed just those four carnivores.

“Frankly, I don’t really want to know what the feed bill is. The state road department brings us all the road kill deer for the lions and tigers, and that helps.”

In addition to the animals on the farm, the facility has a 100-seat Feed Box Restaurant, a banquet hall called “The Waterin’ Hole,” that can seat about 200 and 11 cabins that rent by the night or week. The farm also has a nine-hole golf course and a swimming pool.

The farm’s season really starts in April and runs through November, and thousands of visitors come each year. The farm also hosts Christmas parties, special events, reunions and weddings all year long, catering them at the Waterin’ Hole.

Now that the season is winding down, the restaurant is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Adkins has become chief cook and bottle washer on occasion.

“I’ve done it all here,” she said, “especially since the cook quit about four weeks ago. I didn’t train as a chef, but I had an awesome grandmother and mother who taught me a lot.” And Adkins doesn’t cook at home — she cooks only when she gets paid.

During the rodeo season, the farm hosts two national events — one in June and the other in August. Both are sanctioned by the National Professional Rodeo Association.

“The best of the best are competing here,” she said. “Our arena, the Robert E. Kamm Arena, named in honor of Tom’s father, seats about 3,000 and is one of the best in the state. We’ve had world championship events here.”

The farm still has horses — Adkins’ horse and a couple they board.

“My 22-year-old quarter house, Barney, is the love of my life,” she said. “He’s my best buddy and the only male I can trust.

“There aren’t a lot of places like this in the state. And even though I do a lot around here, I don’t see myself doing anything else.”

Contact writer Mary Childress at 348-4886.

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