For anyone who may be concerned about future career prospects for cows once the world goes vegan, fear not: cows have been given a new life purpose as professional cuddlers.
No, this isn’t referring to the cud they chew, swallow, regurgitate, and chew again all day long – there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for that yet. But there is indeed a demand, presumably from city-dwellers who have little to no contact with animals in their daily lives, for hanging out with cows. Mountain Horse Farm in upstate New York is getting ready for their upcoming season of cow cuddling, which offers visitors the opportunity to get up close and personal with cows: “brushing, petting, playing, sharing space or snuggling up to the cows while they are lying down.” Although there is no guarantee that the cows actually will lie down – it’s just something they naturally do on their own. Either way, the session costs $75/hour for two people, or for those who want a more immersive experience, a four-day wellness retreat at the farm in September is $1100. Cow cuddling season is officially open from May 1 to October 31.
And for those on the other side of the pond who don’t want to miss out, cow cuddling sessions are also on offer at farms in the Netherlands and Switzerland. The Gisiberg farm, a dairy farm in Tenniken, Switzerland even offers a “cattle-themed adventure park”, where kids age seven and up can learn about cows in a hands-on format that involves feeding them, cleaning them, and taking them for walks around the farm. Cow cuddling is available for 50 francs (about $50) for a two hour session, which begins with an introduction and forming a bond of trust with the cows by first patting and cleaning them, and then moving into the cuddling.
The premise for cow cuddling is the therapeutic effect of physical touch. Scientists recently found – as if we needed a study to know this – that a hug can help someone who feels bad to feel better. Specifically, hugs shut down stress responses in the brain, which then lowers stress hormones in the body. Additionally, hugging generates feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine within the body. It may seem obvious, but hugging helps people to feel calmer and more connected, and touch therapy is now being used to treat depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorders, and even autism.
This is where the cows come in – gentle giants with a warmer body temperature and slower heartbeat than humans, and leading stress-free lives on gentle rolling pastures, cows seem to be the embodiment of relaxation. There is also a link to the nurturing qualities of a mother; cows were associated with the Mother Goddess in ancient Egypt, and are still venerated today in India as a tenet of Hinduism.
Cow cuddling happens today in India too, and you may feel its calming effect just by watching it in the video below:
Cow cuddling is even available in Australia, such as at Braidwood Farm. The program there involves a symbolic adoption of a cow or calf, which is really more like a sponsorship that funds the animal’s keeping and care. For $100, sponsors “adopt” a cow or calf and are given an invite to visit them at the farm as much or as little as they like. They can also bring their family members along for the visit, and when not at the farm they can keep tabs online with calf journals, photos and videos. The farm’s motto is: “Cows trained to make people’s lives better are cows living better lives.”
It turns out that cows are not the only farm animals who are into cuddling. All over the world programs have launched to allow hands-on healing contact with horses, pigs, llamas, and goats. This author even participated in a program called “Hug and Groom” with rescue horses at Peace Ranch in Traverse City, Michigan. This was back in 2015, and was extremely popular, even in winter – in fact, the farm had more people attending than horses that needed grooming, so I just stood back and observed the scene. I didn’t really notice any hugging going on, but there was a general sense of peace in the atmosphere from people enjoying being with the animals. The program still runs weekly to this day, and is free. It is considered a “gateway” to their more intensive wellness programs, such as Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.
While some might argue that farm animals are not really predisposed to cuddling with people, and that perhaps dogs and cats are better suited for the task, the cuddling does seem to be consensual, or at least as consensual as it can be when half the party doesn’t use words. Take for example this photo of a 15 year old boy and his cow at the Iowa State Fair:
This photo immediately went viral and now has garnered millions of views. So, even though they lost the cattle show at the fair, they clearly won at another kind of show, and may be showing the way to another kind of life.