Moo-ving Toward Mental Well-Being: The Therapeutic Power of Cows

Several dairy cows standing in a barn with a view of their udders and back ends.
Photo credit: Brady Miller

This article was written by CREAM Student Brady Miller.

On Spear Street, just down the road from UVM’s athletic campus, is the Paul R. Miller Research and Educational Center. The Miller Barn is home to the Cooperative for Real Education in Agricultural Management, or CREAM program. This student-led dairy herd reaches beyond animal science and dairy management, placing emphasis on community development and gratitude practices.

CREAM students participate in both the hands-on, day-to-day farming (milking, mucking, breeding, etc.), animal science techniques (vaccines, medication protocols, calving), and business decisions. “CREAMers” have deemed the barn a safe-haven for when the overwhelming burdens of college life creep in. After all, how can you still be sad after hugging a cow?

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, classes were shut down on campus. While almost every student was confined to a dorm room, CREAMers were on the farm, masked. The premium ventilation necessary for the cows allowed these students to be one of the only groups able to meet on campus during quarantine. In between chores, students were spread out doing online classes from the comfort of the barn. The barn provided them with a safe escape from quarantined college life, and continues to do the same for current CREAMers.

College is a particularly chaotic environment to be in, consisting of the beauties and horrors of learning who you are and who you wish to become. One of the first lessons CREAM Advisor Dr. Steve Wadsworth taught me was to find out what is important to me, and how to implement it in my life.

When I joined CREAM, I had a particularly difficult sophomore year, one that led to a lot of growth and personal development. When considering the question of what I needed to be fulfilled in life, I reflected on my first two weeks in the program. I felt stronger, more confident, and began to rediscover my grit and drive after a year of burn-out. These realizations led me to define qualities I value in a career, environment, and purpose. Being at the barn reminds me every day how an individual can affect the system, even in a small way, giving each and every day a meaning that can not be replaced.

As the leaves change and the wind cools, an anxious awaiting of winter creeps into many students’ minds. The dark and cold winters can take a harsh toll on student mental wellness, transitioning into spring semester. Many are stuck indoors besides the short journey to classes, if you choose to attend class that day.

If you begin to feel stuck, restless, and cold, I encourage you to make your way down Spear Street to the heated Miller Barn. Connect with our cows, who work so hard to contribute to our food system. Give them head scratches, hugs, or just a wave hello. The barn isn’t just for CREAM students, it’s a resource for everyone in the Burlington area.

Visit the UVM CREAM website for information about tours.

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