Dumble Farm: Yorkshire farm overwhelmed with requests for hosts cow cuddling experiences
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Dumble Farm owner Fiona Wilson is no stranger to cows. She has been surrounded by farm animals since she was a child and couldn’t imagine her life without animals. Mrs Wilson, 54, from Beverley, her husband Ian and brother James McCune own Dumble Farm and a variety of cows including dairy and Highlands.
After experiencing severe flooding over the years, she decided it was unsustainable to keep all of her dairy cows. With a heavy heart, they decided to sell all of her cows with the exception of five. Since dairy cows are known for their gentle nature, the three farmers decided to train them as ‘professional cuddlers’. After months of intense coaching, Dumble Farm began hosting ‘cow cuddling’ sessions.
“We thought we would sell them, look for something else to do; something that would be more into conservation, sustainable farming,” Mrs Wilson said. “I’ve had calves all my life since I was a little child and I couldn’t bear to be without cows. So we had Highland cows as our conservation grazers.
“We sold the dairy herd apart from five that we couldn’t bear to part with because they were our pets, basically our friends. We knew these cows are very gentle, very friendly, quiet cows; I wondered if we were able to work with them, train them as it were, to be professional cuddlers so that’s what we did.”
Since they introduced ‘cow cuddling’ sessions, they have been inundated with booking requests. “Lots of people are quite interested in the life cycles and what they eat, the breeding, some people are quite chatty and want to know things, other people just want to sit quietly with the cow,” Mrs Wilson.
“We sell out so fast. So many people have heard about cow cuddling now; it’s like trying to book for Glastonbury at the moment. It is a lot. Cow cuddling-wise, we will certainly go up in numbers for that experience in the foreseeable future. We could potentially do one more. Occasionally someone will want a private booking. Some people come because they want to have a quiet time. Some people are scared of cows, a few people have said they have a bit of a fear of cows.
“Other people absolutely adore cows and want to be close to them. People seem to get their wellbeing from it, cows are very gentle, non-judgmental, you can sit with them and it’s a really relaxing feeling.”
The sessions attract a variety of people from all ages from early twenties to eighties. Mrs Wilson said exposing young people to the world of sustainable farming and agriculture is very important to her.
“I think so many people now don’t understand where food comes from,” she said.
“It’s all supermarkets and a lot of people don’t get that connection between nature and farming and where food is coming from. Social media is misleading. I think schools are trying to push more for children to have that farm-to-fork approach.
“It’s nice having children and younger people come down to learn about where food actually comes from, what animals actually look like and how they grow, how you breed them. It’s not all nasty and cruel like social media puts across.
“There’s a lot of waste nowadays when it comes to food and I think it’s because it is so cheap and people don’t really understand what goes into producing it. It’s important that they do.”
To train the cows, Dumble Farm owners give them a different feed just two hours before the experience begins. When they are full, they lay down and digest their food, known as ‘cud’, and this is the best stage to cuddle them.
She described the difference between dairy cows and Highlands: “The cow cuddle is a very quiet, calm bit and then we meet the Highlands. “They’re completely different characters; a lot more feisty and bigger. A contrast really.
“A lot of people like that, I think some people come because they want to see the Highlands but they have a fantastic time cow cuddling, other people really want to interact with the quiet dairy cows.
“We understand that loud noises or sudden movements can disturb them, the whole experience starts out very slowly and quietly and that brings a sense of calm in itself.
“We do this with our dairy cows, that are very gentle and quiet, Highlands are completely different.”
Dumble Farm welcomes six people in for each session, twice a week, and Mrs Wilson admits she prefers a small group as it provides an intimate and private environment and they can give their full attention to each visitor.
Each session describes the importance of cows on a wider scale.
“We explain [the cow’s] place in the wider picture, as part of the whole system, they are important for biodiversity and creating habitats,” Mrs Wilson said.
“Without the cows we wouldn’t have the correct habitat for the creatures to rely on them. Animals rely on each other. I start by saying this is how we got here, this is what we did, this is what we’re doing now, this is the conservation project, this is what we’re here for.”
Mrs Wilson said her husband suffers from anxiety and having the cows has helped him when he’s felt stressed. As such, the experience is very popular with people who have learning disabilities and mobility issues. My husband suffers quite badly with anxiety and if he’s feeling stressed, he goes and speaks to the cows. He knows it works,” she said. “We are trying to become more accessible.
“We have a group of youngsters and adults with learning disabilities and they seem to get so much out of it; people who are autistic, they seem to really engage with the animals. That’s very rewarding. Some of the reviews we get and things that people say leave me in tears. It’s just lovely. People come in and just start to cry. It’s almost overwhelming the feedback we are getting. Just seeing the smile on peoples’ faces, that is the most rewarding part.”