Prairie View Farm owners aim to educate children and parents about care of small animals

Large numbers of small animals being sold by families on craigslist prompted Irvin to provide education for kids and parents

Six-year-old Solomon Schaller, St. Cloud, holds a guinea pig Sunday at Prairie View Farm’s Halloween event. Owners of the farm have set out to provide children with one-on-one experiences with smaller animals to help them decide if they truly want to buy one.

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A lifetime of working with horses has instilled in Margo Irvin a deep appreciation for animals. So much so that she couldn’t stop with just horses.
“There are too many animals out there and they are not a commodity,” Irvin said. “They are living things. It just breaks my heart to see people dispose of them.”

Irvin, along with her daughter, Charlene Irvin-Brown, started taking in abandoned animals a couple years ago to not only give homes to them, but also to turn their existing horse farm into an animal education center.

“Our main goal is to get kids to come out and learn about animals rather than just go out and buy them on impulse, then not know how to take care of them,” Irvin-Brown said.

Coming from Illinois, Irvin-Brown and her husband, Gordon, who is a professor of biology and environmental studies at
St. John’s University, moved to their current location just south of Upsala near Holdingford on County Highway 238 11 years ago. Irvin-Brown’s parents remained on their 16-acre, 50-stall  horse farm in Illinois until they just couldn’t be away from their daughter any longer.

When Irvin and her husband, Charlie, decided to move to Bowlus seven years ago, the family built a pole barn and some stables on Irvin-Brown’s sprawling property, and Prairie View Farm was born.

Now, the farm is home to much more than Irvin’s 13 horses. The farm now houses three goats, three pigs, two sheep, three geese, four ponies, two donkeys and two miniature horses, not to mention the cats, hamsters, gerbils, rats, guinea pigs, skinny pigs (hairless guinea pigs), ferrets and rabbits.

Irvin said nearly all of the animals have been purchased off Craigslist when the owners grew tired of them, or were rescued from the humane society. Irvin has a very strict  no-breeding policy and keeps all her animals until they pass on. Her oldest horse, 27-year-old Sneakers, has been with the family since his racing career ended at age three.

Gordon Brown and wife, Charlene Irvin-Brown (center), bought the property for Prairie View Farm 11 years ago. Farmhand Rachel Anderson, Holdingford, is in eighth-grade and said working with animals is a great way to relax after a hard day.

Learning about standard farm animals is very important, Irvin said, but there is a sore lack of small-animal education out there, which in many cases can be just as important.

“They need to know other animals besides just horses and cows to see how much there is to taking care of them before parents buy them,” she said.

One of the more recent additions to the farm was a small, pot-bellied pig. It was being kept indoors and the owner sold the pig after its care became too difficult and time consuming.

Irvin said that was a good example of someone who loves animals, but was not educated enough about the time and effort it takes to raise a smaller animal. Irvin hopes to alleviate some of these common problems by getting more kids to the farm for events like the Halloween party held Sunday, Oct.30.

“I want to give homes to the animals I can afford to and educate kids and parents at the same time,” she said.

Irvin-Brown, who is a teacher at North Junior High School in St. Cloud, said it is essential for proper development to get children closer to animals, especially when the children are in learning environments that can be stressful. Spending time with animals can facilitate cathartic experiences for both children and adults.

“Sometimes I will come up here and sit, watching the animals,” Irvin-Brown said. “It helps people relax. We are so busy — constantly going, and this gives us a time to just calm down. That is good for kids … and animals don’t judge you, they give you unconditional love and respond to positive attention. Sometimes kids don’t get that anywhere else.”

Both Irvin-Brown and her mother said they would like more families to come out and visit the animals, but would like to keep the operation small and manageable. Irvin said she is not in the business of rescuing and raising animals to make a big profit.

“I don’t want to be rich,” she said. “I just want to pay the insurance bills, feed the animals and pay the veterinarian bills — and see some kids happy.”

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