EAST LANSING, Mich. – The therapy dogs have competition.
With finals this month, Michigan State University students can unwind by spending quality time with the school’s dairy cows at the Dairy Cattle Teaching and Research Center.
Ten dollars gets 30 minutes of cow brushing time.
The event is called “Finals Stress mooove on out!” It’s the first time the center has done an event like it.
But farm manager Andrea Meade said cows make ideal therapy animals.
“They’re very calm, very sweet,” she told the Lansing State Journal . “It takes a lot to get them riled up. They’re like dogs.”
Zoology student Alicia Gamache became fast friends with a cow named Sunday. She’d visited the dairy barn because she was intrigued by the idea of getting close to animals she had only seen at school events and county fairs.
Sunday stretched out on her bed of hay as Gamache brushed her, ridding the Holstein of dust that had settled into her coat. Gamache tried to encourage her to roll over to her other side. Sunday was too relaxed to bother.
Gamache joked that she’d take a cow brushing class if MSU offered it.
“I miss my dog,” she said. “I miss interacting with animals.”
The brushing both keeps the cows clean and relaxes them, Meade said.
Some dairy farms have automated mechanical brushes, and, in some countries, such as Denmark, providing cows with access to resources that promote coat care is required by law.
As students visit the barn, Mead gives them pointers about how to not spook the animals and talks about the milking process. She answers questions about cannulas — a porthole-like device that gives researchers easy access to the first chamber of a cow’s stomach — and what happens when the cows stop producing milk.
Psychology senior Meryn Mostrom beamed as she wandered, brush in hand, through the barn with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend, Alex Lafler, surprised her by taking her to the event.
Mostrom was glad to see that the cows appreciated the extra attention.
“They enjoy it too,” she said. “That makes me happy.”
MSU has about 400 cattle, 200 of which are milking cows. They all have names. There’s Emerald and Penny and Isabella. And Martha and Finally and Ava and Alise and Bunnie and Viper and others, too.
The milking cows are milked two times a day, once at 2:30 a.m. and again around 2 p.m. The facility employs about 50 students, who work anywhere between an hour to 30 hours a week cleaning and taking care of the cattle.
Meade said the finals-focused event is a good chance to get students who wouldn’t otherwise be at the cattle research center to interact with the animals. Most MSU students never need to visit the barn.
And she’s seen firsthand the way they can turn someone’s day around.
“When I get tired of working on budgets, I come out and brush the cows,” she said.