What does it take to keep the nearly 650 animals at Black Beauty Ranch satiated, medicated and hydrated? A whole lotta produce, plus a dash of creativity. Here’s how sanctuary staff provide balanced diets, guided by the veterinary team.

Black Beauty Ranch staff member prepares food for the animals.
Former primate caregiver Randi Salisbury chops produce, which gets weighed and added to labeled buckets.
Karen Lange


Carrots, peppers, cantaloupes, snap peas, spinach, cabbage, watermelon, cauliflower, berries, apples, oranges … the primates eat well. Caregivers prep produce assembly-line-style, adding items to buckets labeled for each animal. Diet prep sheets specify how much of each item to add by weight, tailored to the animals’ and species’ needs: Marmoset Abu needs a diabetic-friendly diet, and lemurs shouldn’t have avocados, for example.

Other species enjoy produce alongside their commercial feed, hay or grain: tomatoes for pigs, carrots for horses, strawberries for tortoises, and so on. Office manager Yeni Velazquez estimates the sanctuary goes through 25,000 to 30,000 pounds of produce a year, costing roughly $1,200 a week. The sanctuary also receives donations from grocery stores and farmers. In the fall, donated pumpkins serve as snacks and playthings for many residents, including 25-year-old black bear Sammi, who was once used in the entertainment industry.


Raw, unsalted nuts in their shells make protein-rich snacks for many animals. Caregivers scatter peanuts in wooded areas for the bears to find, while gibbons enjoy cracking into walnuts. Phoenix the tufted capuchin prefers mixed nuts, cashews and a special blend of seeds.

Plants aren’t the only protein sources. Beef makes up the bulk of the tigers’ diet, while some primates enjoy insects. Caregivers place plump, bright blue hornworms around the gibbons’ enclosure, requiring the animals to hang from branches to retrieve them. This setup mimics how gibbons browse in the wild.

Pigs eating fruit on a plate.
At Black Beauty Ranch, a varied diet provides both nutrition and enrichment.


Twice a day, farm team caregivers are on sandwich duty. They’re not churning out your typical PB&J, though. The animals who require additions to their food—such as hoof-strengthening supplements or deworming medication—get extra-special sandwiches.

Caregiver Michelle White has perfected the art of hiding meds from discerning goats. It requires coating a pill in peanut butter, stuffing it between two small squares of bread (crusts removed, obviously), covering the mini sandwich with more peanut butter, sandwiching THAT whole thing between two carrot slices, and finally filling any open edges with more peanut butter, as if icing the sides of a cake. The goal is to obscure the scent of medication, lest a particularly picky goat sniff out the pill and reject the entire sandwich.

Preferences go beyond hiding spots for pills. Jackie, a white-faced capuchin, became very excited the first time staff gave her a frozen pickle treat to help with hydration. “She loves pickles so much she rubbed it all over herself. She wanted to smell like pickles,” says caregiver Christine James.

Being able to explore new foods and discover preferences is unusual. Many animals kept in captivity—as pets or in roadside zoos—don’t have the luxury of being picky, James notes. After years with limited food, the 22 animals who came to  the sanctuary from a shuttered Puerto Rico zoo last year eat almost anything.

As these newcomers settle into sanctuary life, the lemurs, llamas, coatis and others will discover their own preferences. And when that happens, staff will get creative to meet their needs and tastes, too.

Tortoise eating a plate of food.
The tortoises at Black Beauty Ranch receive yummy snacks as part of their care.

A taste of the wild side

Treat your companion animal to sanctuary-approved snacks. Try the following:

  • Texas summers require cooling snacks, and many of the sanctuary’s species enjoy ice pops. Drop berries or chopped fruit into ice cube trays or frozen treat molds, then fill with water and freeze to make fruit ice pops. (Or just freeze cubes of watermelon!)
  • Oatmeal leftover from your breakfast? The sanctuary’s bears would happily take it, but you can more easily add a bit to your pup’s bowl for extra fiber. (Or freeze it into oatmeal balls like the ones capuchins Phoenix and Phoebe enjoy.)
  • Keep it simple: Just as primates enjoy a variety of simple fruits and veggies, your pets might, too! Experiment and see what your companion enjoys, being sure to avoid toxic items (avocadoes and grapes are not safe for dogs, for example).

Always research whether a given ingredient is safe for your pet. Ask your veterinarian if you’re unsure. Learn More

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