The New Year has not been the turning point many Americans hoped it would be. From the cresting coronavirus pandemic to the recent chaos at the Capitol, 2021 is shaping up to be as rough as 2020. Fortunately, an up-and-coming wellness practice promises to alleviate the stress of overworked and anxious Americans: cow-hugging.
No joke. Cow-hugging. It originated in the Netherlands and has begun popping up on American farms as a way to relax amid troubling times. For instance, at Gentle Barn Farm in Santa Clarita, California — when there isn’t a statewide lockdown — visitors can cuddle with cows on Sundays between 10am and 2pm.
Ellie Laks, who founded the Gentle Barn in 1999, says cow-hugging provides relief to those of us feeling weighed down by stress, loneliness, and anxiety.
“When we put our arms around the cows and we put our faces against their fur, and we close our eyes, and we just breath in and out deeply, there’s something energetic that happens that calms the nerves, that expands the heart, that heals the soul, and brings you back to life no matters what you’re dealing with,” Laks told The News Station.
Despite the supposed benefits, some are concerned by the increasing popularity of cow-hugging. Dr. Leslie Stewart is an Associate Professor of Counseling at Idaho State, and an expert on Animal Assisted Therapy. Though she recognizes cow-hugging can relieve stress, she also thinks that trained animal-assisted therapists should be facilitating the practice — not farmers.
“Understanding animals is one thing, and understanding people is one thing. Understanding how to facilitate the two of them together is its own area,” Dr. Stewart told The News Station, “And so, maybe a farmer has tons of expertise in cows, but not necessarily in the therapeutic application of cow-human interaction.”
Animals like cows also might not enjoy hugging the way humans do, according to Dr. Stewart.
“That’s just the thing about interacting with animals. They communicate very differently, they view the world very differently, and a lot of times if we’re not able to recognize their more subtle signals, they can’t say ‘hey goofy, I don’t like that’ the way we can,” she told The News Station.
While research on cow-hugging is scarce, some studies show the animals like being cuddled. Cows “stretched out their necks and let their ears fall…when stroked in parts of the upper back and the neck areas” in a study in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science. They also showed further signs of relaxation such as a lowered heart rate.
“This suggests that cows may in part perceive human stroking of body regions often-licked similarly to social licking,” the researchers who conducted the study stated.
“Every animal is magical and healing,” Ellie Laks, the animal sanctuary owner says, “But I think there’s something about being in front of such a giant animal that could easily end you if they wanted to, but instead they’re holding still and allowing you to hug them and hugging you back. And I think that’s part of the magic. Because it’s reciprocal.”
With 2021 starting off as 2020 felt the entire year, we’re looking for hugs wherever we can get them, and at this point hugging a cow is definitely better than nothing.