A wellness trend in the Netherlands has people taking time out of their day to spend time cuddling with cows.


HORNELL, N.Y. – Growing up without siblings on a family farm that hugged the New York-Pennsylvania border, Jessica Hoffman would find comfort in the animal barn with her bovine buddies.

“Ever since I was a little kid and I had a bad day, I would just hang out with the cows,” said Hoffman.

“I was an only child. They were like my friends. Cows are like giant dogs, they really are,” Hoffman said. “They all have their unique personalities, and you learn them. Like a dog — some are great, and some are jerks.”

Six-year-old AnnaMay Stauffer cuddles a cow at Sunset View Creamery, in Odessa, N.Y. on May 20, 2021. According to her mom, AnnaMay — who has sensory processing disorders — has benefited from frequent visits to the farm and has bonded with the animals. (Photo: Kate Collins / Hornell Evening Tribune)

Hoffman is ready to share her love of cows. The activity is called “cow cuddling.” Visitors to the Sunset View Creamery – Hoffman Family Farm in the Schuyler County town of Odessa, N.Y.  will be able to snuggle with the Holsteins and Brown Swiss from May through September.

Cow cuddling, according to the farm’s website, is a “one of a kind, hands on experience hugging, resting against, and generally hanging out with some of our bovine beauties.”

Snuggling up with a 1,500-pound animal sounds unusual, but the practice — a wellness trend similar to goat yoga — is gaining momentum across the United States.

The idea originated about a decade ago on a farm in the Netherlands where it was called “koe knuffelen,” according to the BBC. Cow cuddling releases oxytocin, the so-called “bonding hormone.”

Jess Hoffman of Sunset View Creamery with one of her Brown Swiss cows. For $15 per half hour, visitors to the Schuyler County farm can now experience “cow cuddling.” May 20, 2021. (Photo: Kate Collins / Hornell Evening Tribune)

According to the Washington Post, cow cuddling has become increasingly popular as people seek relief from the isolation of social distancing during the COVID pandemic.

“I definitely think that’s what the appeal is going to be. We’re living in a time of chaos, and you come here for half an hour and just chill out, like meditation,” Hoffman explained.

Although cow cuddling is a global trend, Hoffman’s inspiration came from her own personal experiences and witnessing how others react to the animals.

“Cow cuddling has been kind of spurred on by a little girl who has some physical disabilities and she hurts a lot, I guess is the best way to put it,” Hoffman said. “She has a hard time walking. You can tell by watching her walk when she comes that some days are harder than others.”

At the farm, Hoffman has noticed the child gains enthusiasm around the cows; there’s a spring in her step as she playfully and energetically interacts with the animals. 

“She can just be a kid here, so it spurred on this idea of, ‘Can I help more people by doing something?’” Hoffman said.

Jess Hoffman of Sunset View Creamery, and visitor AnnaMay Stauffer, 6, interact with cows at the Odessa, N.Y. farm on May 20, 2021. (Photo: Kate Collins / Hornell Evening Tribune)

Elsewhere, cow cuddling costs about $75 a session, but Hoffman set the price lower: $15 for a half hour.

“I want this to be a family place where you can have four kids and you can still afford to come and buy a couple pints of ice cream and cow cuddle, and walk around the farm, and you’re not going to break the bank,” she said.

Changing farm economics

Cow cuddling is the latest effort to diversify the farm from its traditional role of just producing milk. The change is partly due to economics.

While the Department of Agriculture and Markets boasts that New York is the fourth largest producer of dairy in the nation, Hoffman said the past five years in the industry have been rough. Innovation is necessary for farms to thrive. The Hoffman farm has been in her in-laws’ family since 1905.

Jessica and her husband, Jeremy Hoffman, are expecting their first child June 24. Jeremy’s mom and dad, Ron and Carmella Hoffman, are the latest family stalwarts in the more than a century-old farm.

They share a focus on making the Hoffman farm a destination for visitors seeking an immersive experience.

“You’re not in the business of shipping milk every day. You’re now in the agritourism business and you have to shift your mindset to that,” Jessica Hoffman said.

In recent years, the family started a creamery making a variety of cheeses sold online and in the farm’s store. The store also sells raw milk, meat, eggs and locally made products such as fudge, maple syrup and soap. Visitors can take guided or self-guided tours of the farm.

“In the summer, we’re in a huge tourist area. I ship cheese nationwide weekly which has been a good revenue source, but this time of year my mind starts shifting to, ‘We’re going to have tons and tons of people here all summer, so what are we going to do for them?’”

The experts weigh in

Lindsay Wickham, a senior field advisor with the New York State Farm Bureau, praised the Hoffman farm for its ability to adapt and diversify with the changing times.

“Unfortunately, the farm economy has forced the hand of many (farms)” to diversify, Wickham noted.

As a result, “Ag tourism has grown by leaps and bounds,” he acknowledged.

As for cow cuddling, Wickham, who lives in Schuyler County, is bullish on the idea.

“It’s great — a fabulous idea. It is nice to see someone kind of reaching outside the box a little bit. Cow cuddling, just the name alone is unique and great.”

Nicole Rawleigh, president of the Schuyler County Farm Bureau, agrees.

“I wish I could do it all the time. How great is that? I’m jealous they thought of it and I didn’t,” Rawleigh said.

Rawleigh appreciates the role agritourism occupies in Schuyler County.

“It’s hugely important,” Rawleigh said. “We have a bunch of different wineries, breweries, distilleries. We have a bunch of farm markets, creameries, local ice cream makers.”

Wickham said agritourism does more than help the local economy. He sees agricultural attractions as a crucial education tool as well.

“Our goal with the Farm Bureau and other (agricultural organizations) is to get people closer to their food source,” he said. “Fifty or 60 year years ago, 50 percent of the population was directly related to a farm. Today, it is like two percent that can even claim they had a grandparent who grew up on a farm.

“So we have become distanced from where our food comes from.”

Raleigh believes the cuddling will inevitably lead to learning.

“I’m grateful that people can go and have this cuddling experience but also learn about what goes on day to day at the farms,” The Farm Bureau president said. “It’s not just go, pet a cow. You’re going to see how the cow lives and understand day to day how it is. That wouldn’t have been an opportunity that we would have had before this.

“I think it’s a gap we have in agriculture right now, educating people on where their food comes from.”

Like ‘giant donkeys’

Hoffman respects the educational aspect of agritourism. Ask her about cow breeds and their special features or their idiosyncrasies and she has answers.

Hoffman said, “Brown Swiss are good for cheese making” but she added, “My Swiss are like giant donkeys. That’s what we call them.

“People can ask me questions, but you’re really there to chill out with the cows, hang out with them. I definitely think that’s what the appeal is going to be. We’re living in a time of chaos, and you come here for half an hour and just chill out, like meditation.”

Cow cuddling will be offered three days a week in June and two days a week in July.

Rawleigh can’t wait to see how the Hoffman farm does with its newest venture.

“This cow cuddling opportunity that has come up from the Hoffmans is definitely unique, and I can’t wait to see how people react to it and how they’re enjoying it,” she said.

Follow Neal Simon on Twitter: @HornellTribNeal.

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