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Cow Cuddling: The New Therapy Trend Helping People to Relax and Unwind

Moo’ve over therapists, in come the cattle. 

Snuggles galore! Credit: TikTok/ @dumblefarm/@ivyyeross.

Agrotourism has taken a new turn: cow cuddling. Inspired by Dutch koe knuffelen, British dairy farms and sanctuaries now offer intimate interactions with their herds. The reaction? Overwhelmingly positive. Brits have been queuing up to get cozy, meditate and practice yoga under bovine breath. 

In 2022, after 50 years of dairy farming, Dumble Farm found itself financially stumped. Deep-set in the River Hull Valley, its land was swamped by increased rainfall. Drainage systems were overwhelmed. Dairying had become unsustainable.  

The farm’s owners – Fiona Wilson, her husband, Will, and brother, James – found an unusual solution to their dilemma. The family sold most of their cattle and started transforming their business into Yorkshire’s first highland cow safari. A grass collecting machine was combined with bits and bobs from the old milking parlor to create a colorful ‘Dumble Bus’ trailer, able to accommodate up to 10 people. The remaining cows were trained to safely interact with human strangers. Post-meal naptime was selected as the ideal slot for cuddle sessions. 2 hours of hands-on interaction was priced at £50. 

Highland cows are renowned for their tawny coats and shaggy fringes. Credit: Shutterstock/ Mojo’s Moments.

Let’s face it: heading over for a hug is hardly the standard reaction to a field of cows. Nor is plunging into downward dog. As early-noughties CBBC kids will remember, cattle made Steve Backshall’s Deadly 60 – and for good reason. Last August, a 55-year-old dog walker died after being stomped on by 30 cows in West Sussex. A month beforehand, a woman was narrowly rescued from stampeding cattle by her husband. The incident left her with broken ribs and severe organ failures.  

Surprisingly, however, Dumble Farm’s cow-cuddling experiences have accrued an enthusiastic customer base. The farm is now appointed #1 of 21 things to do in Beverley, East Yorkshire, by TripAdvisor. Its 80 5-star reviews clamor over the herd’s relaxing aura and, of course, vote for Miss Cow-geniality. Morag and ‘sass pot’ Mel C are popular choices. Scooby2401, from Ashfield, exclaims, ‘It’s a great idea if you’re struggling with what to do next in life. Go cuddle a cow!’  

Dumble Farm has attracted 14.8k followers and 164.3k likes on TikTok. It is now also a medal holder, garnering the Remarkable East Yorkshire Tourism Awards’ 2023 New Tourism Business of the Year award. 

The 2-hour cow cuddling bundle leaves plenty of time for petting and grooming the cows. Credit: Shutterstock/ AnnaElizabeth Photography.

No serious incidents have occurred since the big switch from dairying to agrotourism. Terms and conditions do, however, make sure to limit the business’ accountability. ‘Like people, animals can have off days, can be unpredictable and act out of character,’ the Dumble Farm website states, ‘Guests participate with this understanding and at their own risk.’  

Cow cuddling is well-proven to have therapeutic effects. Hugs, in general, cause our bodies to produce calming oxytocin hormones. Cows’ soft fur, warm body temperature, slow heartbeat and large size only add to this effect. Love can’t be measured. But, surely, a 1000-pound fluffball provides a high dosage. According to Dr Michael Ungar, making bovine friends may also boost your microbiome by exposing you to a richer bacterial world.’ 

Scientific research suggests that cows enjoy the petting experience as much as we do. Helen Proctor and Gemma Carder’s 2015 livestock cognition study used heartrate and eye-white percentage measurements to prove that gentle petting stimulates positive arousal in cows.

Jersey cow leaning in for a stroke. Credit: Shutterstock/ HASPhotos.

Notably, Dumble Farm’s male cattle are all butchered. Their meat is then sold in the farm shop. 

Dumble Farm is not the only source of cow cuddles in the UK. Cow Companions in Ceredigion, Wales, offers one-on-one hugs with its 12 bovine residents. The sanctuary’s website provides detailed rundowns of each cow’s life story and temperament – from peppy Abhimanyu to arthritis-ridden Jagannath. Cuddles are conditional on a ‘mutual connection’ between the cow and human when they first meet.

cow cuddle therapy
Illustration by Callie Lin

Similar enterprises have sprung up in the US, too. The Gentle Barn, a California-based NGO, encourages people to ‘heal with cows’ through its multi-session Peace Enhancement Program. Owner Ellie Laks’ psychic abilities have been showcased by Tedx Talks, the Ellen DeGeneres Show and the Try Guys’ YouTube channel. On Big Island, Hawaii, Krishna Cow Sanctuary sells cow cuddle therapy for just $20. TikToker Ivy Eros gained 3.3 million likes (and counting) for a video montage of the experience.

@ivyyeross

suddenly all my mommy issues are gone #fyp #cowtherapy

♬ Home – Matthew Hall

As the January blues take hold, the allure of switching screens and blankets for a bovine snuggling session seems set only to increase. Dumble Farm’s cow cuddling experiences are nearly booked up for this month, with February openings soon to be released via their mailing list.  

Written By

Penultimate-year undergraduate at the University of St Andrews, studying MA English and Modern History

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