Are you one of nearly 55% of Americans feeling stressed out and overwhelmed? Are you at the mercy of your irritability, mood swings, and tense feelings like more than half of the U.S. population?

Maybe you just need a hug, or rather, to give one.

A number of farms in Maine have got your back — and front — providing a unique service through the animals they raise, inviting guests to cuddle and play with their livestock, ranging from cows and goats to puppies and lambs.

Animal hugging, as it is colloquially known, has become a popular attraction for small farms opening up to the public for the summer particularly after nearly two years of socially distanced business.

Bill Fox and his wife, April, started hosting what they called “lamb cuddling” sessions on their farm in Monmouth last year and have started again based on the enthusiasm they received from visitors. The eight adult sheep, seven lambs, two pairs of horses and Jersey cows fill the roster at Fox’s Farm, although according to Fox, the main attraction is the whole experience. Crowds at the farm have gotten as high as 200 people, with nearly 160 this past Saturday.

“The original purpose was just to let people experience farm life, animals, and the goodness of the earth,” said Fox. But it became clear cuddling lambs was one of the favorite activities, even though they aren’t the only animals enjoying the hugs. “Everyone thinks of lambs as very cuddly, and they certainly are,” said Fox, “(but) our cow loves it. She’s always at the fence asking for more attention. She licks people and there’s pictures of people petting her and hugging her and all kinds of things. She loves people and they love her.”

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Samantha McLaughlin of Starks was enraptured by the friendliness of the animals when she visited with her 1-year-old Saturday. “When I saw the event on Facebook I thought it would be a fun weekend activity to do with my son. My husband and I want to give him as many experiences as we can and this was perfect for him! He loved it!” said McLaughlin. “I think they (enjoy it). What animal doesn’t like to be loved on and patted all day?”

The use of animals in therapy is nothing new, and this form of farm-based interaction, though brief, is effective due to its setting and less conditioned behavior of the animal, according to experts. Therapy animals may be trained, but farm animals are generally oblivious to such goals, and that same lack of awareness can have a serene effect on those in their presence. Studies have shown that even a fish tank in a waiting room has proven to reduce the anxiety levels of those nearby, while research by Norwegian scientists at the University of Agder in Kristiansand found that interactions with farm animals significantly reduced the levels of stress and anxiety in persons involved.

While hugging does happen at the farms, there’s also a lot of touching, petting, watching and talking to them too. It’s about being near.

“I feel like being around baby animals puts people in a pretty good mood,” said Kiersten Legere, of Augusta, who came to Fox’s Farm with her 10-month-old daughter Saturday. “My husband won’t let me buy a baby lamb so I have to pet them somewhere else,” she said.

A visitor with the Auburn Senior Community Center holds Cleo a baby goat while at Sunflower Creamery in Cumberland on May 19. Sunflower Creamery photo

In Cumberland, Sunflower Creamery produces cheeses and milk from their 23 Nigerian dwarf goats, while also letting them frolic with visitors during events held at the farm. Run by husband and wife team Chris and Hope Hall, they opened the farm after their daughter’s desire for a pet led to their interest in goats and milking.

“They make amazing pets, and we then started getting into milking and the rest of it, and also realized that there was this need for people to connect with animals in a way that was meaningful. It kind of makes people more human when they connect with animals in a way that reminded them that animals are each individuals as well,” said Hope Hall.

Hall says that almost everyone who holds a goat says it’s like therapy. “Goats are two things: First thing is that they are really playful and fun loving and hilarious, but they also are very serene and calm and they just sit and chew their cud. So it’s kind of the two things that humans are seeking in this modern world. The most is a sense of playfulness and joy in the midst of what can seem as like a difficult kind of climate,” she said.

Sunflower Creamery sells almost all of its baby goats, about 60 a year. Hall attributes their popularity to the fact that the goats are not afraid of humans and instead learn to see them as part of their herd. In the meantime they mingle amongst the visitors who come for Thursday night “farm yoga” classes, Friday night “Hoppy Hour” (which includes foods and drinks served via food truck), and the free Saturday cuddle sessions, which, according to Hall, draw hundreds of people during the summer season.

“We’re hoping to make Friday nights a tradition,” Hall said. “We’ll have a food truck and drinks, and adults can come without having to fight the kids for the lambs. They can come snuggle the goats and chat with each other.”


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