Visitors to Tumble Farm in the north of England come from far and wide, not to buy milk or cheese, but to cuddle an exotic Highland cow and her companions.
Fiona Wilson and her colleagues at the farm began offering cuddle sessions with their cows in February when it became clear their economic woes weren’t going away anytime soon. “Some people like to interact with dogs, cats or horses. Others like to be with cows,” Fiona Wilson told AFP. “People come for their well-being. Being in the company of animals relieves anxiety, it’s almost like therapy.
Like many other farmers, the owners of Tumble Farm, near Beverley, East Yorkshire, have been hit hard by the sharp fall in milk prices and, more recently, high inflation. In just a few decades, tens of thousands of breeders have left the industry. According to a report by the House of Commons Library, there were 196,000 dairy farms in England in 1950. By 1995, only 35,700 remained.
Falling milk prices and rising prices of energy, fuel, feed and fertilizer since the outbreak of war in Ukraine in February 2022 have sealed the fate of many. According to the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board, which represents farmers, there will be only 7,500 dairy farmers left in Britain by October 2023.
“Peaceful and Friendly Nature”
Tumble Farm has faced flooding six times in seven years, often leaving the farm under water for months at a time. Fiona Wilson and her partners, including her husband and brother, worked 14-hour days all year but lost money. “It’s impossible to live like this,” he insists. “There’s no future. We’re not going anywhere.”
In January 2022, they decided to diversify their activities and sold their herd, except that they could not give up the five cows. “They were truly our friends, with their calm and friendly nature,” says Fiona Wilson. “So we thought we’d try to start some cow petting sessions to make a little more money, (…) and to generate interest in what we’re doing here.”
The farm prepares the cows for months and invites customers to pet them. The cows seemed happy with their new activity. “They are curious animals. They are interested in people who come to see them,” assures Fiona Wilson.
The experience, which also includes educational activities on sustainable agriculture, attracts couples, families and cow lovers from across the country. It’s a success: slots are reserved months in advance at a price of 50 pounds (58.30 euros) per person. Inside the barn, sleeping cows enjoy having their cheeks scratched and their coats brushed by visitors.
Steven Clues treated his wife, who loves Highland cows, to a session. He also benefited from the experience. “I love all animals, especially cuddly ones. So it’s great to hug a big cow,” he enthuses. “They’re so easy to brush,” enthuses his wife Emma Clouse. “I don’t think it’s very relaxing.” At the end of the session, Morag, with his long caramel-colored hair, raises his head to the sky, satisfied, eliciting smiles and cheers from the audience.
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