Cow cuddling has emerged as a new pandemic pastime with Americans paying up to $75 an hour for a hugging session with the farm animals.
Animal sanctuaries across the country are offering the service and reporting high demand as lonely hearts hit hard by the year of social distancing look for a creature comfort to get them through.
‘You cannot hug your friends; you cannot hug your grandkids. At this point, we still have to be careful,’ Suzanne Vullers, who owns Mountain Horse Farm in Naples, New York, told the Washington Post of the cuddling sessions.
In Hawaii, James Higgins runs the Krishna Cow Sanctuary on more than 40 acres of land on the Big Island with 67 cattle, including female cows, calves, bulls and steers
Higgins started offering $75 cuddling sessions about three years ago, and guests can even book through Airbnb
The cow-cuddling sessions are offered by Suzanne Vullers, who is originally from the Netherlands at her 33-acre Mountain Horse Farm in Naples, New York. Pictured above, one of Vullers budding participants
People are signing up to hug cows at sanctuaries across the country, many desperate for affection as the nation approaches a full year of social distancing due to the pandemic
‘But as people, we have that need to be close to others. The cows are safe … and they like that interaction as well.’
Vullers is originally from the Netherlands where the practice is already well established and known as ‘koe knuffelen’.
She and her husband offer cow cuddling each year between May and October.
Visitors spend an hour at a time with Bella and Bonnie, who are half-Scottish Highland and half-Angus, several days a week.
According to proponents of the trend, cow cuddling can be quite soothing thanks to the animal’s warm temperature and size, and the oxytocin boost it triggers can even reduce stress.
Hugging cows, rubbing them, or leaning up against them can be ‘incredibly soothing’ because the cows are big and warm and have a slower heartbeat.
‘Cow cuddling is believed to promote positivity and reduce stress by boosting oxytocin in humans, the hormone released in social bonding. The calming effects of curling up with a pet or emotional support animal, it seems, are accentuated when cuddling with larger mammals,’ reports the BBC.
At Mountain Horse Farm in Naples, New York, the service has been available to guests for about three years
Jeannie Whalen, 76, hugs Moothias, whom she credits with comforting her after her husband, Walter, died in May
Aimees Farm cow cuddle service in Pinal County, Arizona has offered the service for about five years with around 20 calls a day from interested parties
Vullers said that the first few weeks in May are already booked solid as the pandemic has caused a massive increase in demand.
She told the Post that it has become particularly popular with city dwellers looking for an escape.
‘Spending time with large animals like cows, it’s one of the ways that you can do that,’ she said.
Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary in Queen Creek, Arizona, is among the other spots offering up the service.
Renee Behinfar, 43, recently visited and told the Post that she began to cry when the cow lay in her lap.
People take an hour out of their day and find warmth and comfort from cuddling up to cows. Luna BeLou is pictured
May People are signing up to hug cows at sanctuaries across the country, including Misty Kilgore-Benit, pictured, who are desperate for affection as the nation approaches a full year of social distancing during the pandemic
Instagram user Moustache_Farmer People is one of those who signed up to hug cows
The bovines like to amble on over to guests for hugs and cuddles
‘It was really my first real hug of the year,’ said Behinfar of her encounter with Sammy the cow, who had been rescued from a dairy farm.
‘In the end, I really didn’t want to let her go,’ Behinfar added.
Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary has about 100 rescued farm animals, many with disabilities, and is also experiencing remarkable demand this year.
Its sessions, which also cost $75 an hour, are booked out until July.
‘They’re just like happy pills, just to be around,’ owner Aimee Takaha told the Post.
While Takaha has offered the sessions for five years, she said that she has received significantly more calls in the past year and now can receive up to 20 requests a day about the service.
She told the Post that the nine cattle on her farm – including an Angus steer that was rescued from a ditch and Moonicorn, who has one eye and one horn – enjoy strolling over to hug visitors.
Those cuddling up to cows like to take a selfie or two by which to remember the experience
The cows like to roll over on their sides and rest their heads in people’s laps
Participants often become emotional during the activity with some even vowing to become vegetarian
Takaha said that visitors often become emotional, especially as the cows lie on their side and put their heads in laps, and that some who take the session have decided to turn vegetarian after meeting with the animals.
Jeannie Whalen, 76, said that she met with the cows when dealing with the grief of losing her husband in May.
‘It brings a smile to my face and just a wonderful sense of awe,’ she said.
The Krishna Cow Sanctuary in Hawaii has been offering the sessions for three years now, even giving guests the chance to book the experience through Airbnb.
The farms are big enough for people to find their own bit of space and hug a cow
Rugs are provided for people to sit down and nestle up against a huge furry cow
Some people decide to keep wearing face masks to prevent any coronavirus transmission to animals
One man is pictured hugging a cow at a sanctuary in Arizona
Owner James Higgins has 67 cattle living on 40 acres of land on the Big Island, and also charges $75 an hour for sessions.
Higgins, 30, told the Post that his cows love to lie down beside visiting humans.
‘The people seem to love it, and the cows seem to love it,’ he said.
Higgins described it as an ‘extremely soothing effect’ to lie down with the 1,500-to-2,000-pound animals.
‘They’re very big,’ visitor Deirdre Roney said of the cows. ‘There’s an intimidation factor there, but at the same time, … it was a letting-go kind of experience.’
The cow farm in New York is booked until May as people look to escape the city and immerse themselves in nature to de-stress
People are allowed to get up close and personal with the cows allowing them to give them big hugs
Participants take time to snap a selfie alongside their furry friends
‘It’s just really sweet and peaceful,’ she added of the moment her fear evaporated and she hugged one of the cows.
Higgins, who is of the Hare Krishna faith, a branch of Hinduism, explained that within his religion, cows have been revered for thousands of years.
He said that it motivates him to care for the cows but that he also bonds with his guests over the experience.
‘It’s always an amazing experience,’ he said. ‘I feel like I’m best friends with the people afterwards.’
Cow cuddling is just the latest in animal-related wellness trends.
Several years ago, goat yoga became all the rage, with fitness fans signing up for yoga classes in which goats walked around and might even climb onto participants.
Sometimes the cows appear to take quite an interest in the cellphones being used
For some people it is everything they craved having endured a pandemic full of isolation
Even a drooling cow isn’t enough to put people off signing up for their own experience