Enhancing Long Lives

Horse sense leads San Francisco Zoo & Gardens to ComfortStall.

Kim F Miller
Equestrian writer | July 16, 2020

Slider, a mixed-breed steer; Ramona, a San Clemente Island goat; and Nataani, a Navajo-Churro sheep have Ben, a geriatric Quarter Horse, to thank for the supportive, comfortable surface on which they spend their nights. They are all among the many residents of the Fisher Family Children's Zoo and Exploration Zone at San Francisco Zoo and Gardens.

 The Zoo’s proactive approach to animal care and wellness led them to the equine world where they found ComfortStall Sealed Orthopaedic Flooring.

 "We discovered ComfortStall while attending an equine trade show," says Amy Phelps, Children's Zoo Curator. "We were looking for a quality flooring product to provide cushioning for the joints of our geriatric and arthritic horses and ended up purchasing one stall's worth of ComfortStall for an older Quarter Horse. We were so pleased with it, and, more importantly, our horse, Ben, was so pleased with it, that we purchased enough to place the flooring in all the barns in our Family Farm. Now, all of our equines, cows, pigs, goats, and sheep find comfort on this beneficial flooring."

Like horses used in sport and recreation, zoo animals benefit from veterinary care advances that are resulting in longer life spans. Soundness and compensatory muscle and joint issues have the same debilitating effect on Family Farm residents as they do in sport horses.   

"In the zoo industry, animals tend to come in young and live very long lives," Amy explains. "Geriatric care is a very important component in what we do when developing a whole life plan for an animal."

 ComfortStall's unique design and construction make it valuable through all phases of life. Supportive cushion comes from a layer of proprietary foam that provides give and support. The padded surface requires constant, tiny muscle movement to maintain balance, which spurs blood flow and helps maintain joint health. The surface also encourages deep, restful sleep as Family Farm animals spend their nights inside a cozy barn. Having ComfortStall to stand or lie down on greatly benefits their well-being.

Amy estimates that the Children's Zoo saves $15,000 annually on bedding alone.

Better Barn Air

The flooring's durable rubber top cover is sealed to the enclosure walls with anchor strips. This prevents the seepage and accumulation of urine and other fluids that contribute to poor air quality in barns with traditional floor mats. Now, straw, shavings or other types of bedding are not required for use as cushioning: they are only needed in small quantities to absorb urine. Less bedding means fewer dust particles in the air, which improves respiratory health and is especially important when the animals are inside for the night.

Less bedding helps the Zoo's bottom line, too. Amy estimates that the Children's Zoo saves $15,000 annually on bedding alone. Plus, not having to haul heavy mats out of the stall regularly for cleaning is a significant labor saver.

Minimal bedding has various benefits for animals with special needs. The miniature horse, Carmela, for example, has had a specialised diet since undergoing colic surgery. Staff must carefully manage what she eats because she can no longer eat a regular hay diet. 

Evolving Animal Care Priorities

Nataani the Navajo Sheep Hanging Out on ComfortStall

Sprawling over 100 beautiful acres on the southwestern corner of San Francisco, the Zoo is home to over 2,000 animals that represent more than 250 species. In 35 years of care for zoo animals, Children's Zoo Assistant Curator Eric Krussman has seen animal care priorities evolve to today's emphasis on positive reinforcement training and enhanced well-being.

Using positive reinforcement methods in the science of applied behaviour analysis, training focuses on making care easier for the animal and safer for the handlers. Use of this training is widespread throughout the Zoo, from teaching a snow leopard to receive sub-cutaneous fluids to guiding a giraffe to rest its lower leg on a stand for hoof care.  

ComfortStall flooring is an example of the life enhancement component of today's animal care priorities. "In general, it means doing everything we can to keep our animals happy and comfortable throughout their life,” says Eric.

As animal lifespans extend under expert, compassionate human care, ComfortStall flooring contributes to San Francisco Zoo and Gardens’ mission and to that of the many horses for whom it was originally created.

A llama at the San Francisco Zoo enjoying ComfortStall

A Sheep taking a nap on ComfortStall

What is ComfortStall?

What are the benefits of ComfortStall?