WESTBROOK, Maine — They lined up fast. Families, teenagers, 20-somethings on dates. You’d think they saw a sign outside Smiling Hill Farm promising free ice cream. But in the spring of 2016, the offer was something more seductive: the chance to snuggle with a goat.
“People are very interested in holding them,” said barnyard manager Hillary Knight, who orchestrates the new Tuesday night goat cradling sessions on her family’s Westbrook dairy farm.
The goats don’t mind it, either.
“They love snuggling. It calms them down at the end of an energetic day with lots of visitors,” Knight said.
On a whim, the farm launched a free hour of goat snuggling in mid-May. After a Facebook post, 300 people showed up. Now it’s a regular happening. The farm’s seven baby goats, ages 2 weeks to 4 weeks, are moved to a penned area for the cuddle session. Groups of visitors are admitted inside, seated and handed a goat to cozy up to. It’s good, clean fun.
Beyond great selfie and social media fodder, there is an educational component, Knight said. People learn how to hold a goat without dropping it. And for goats, “it’s a good way to socialize them,” according to Knight, who breeds and sells goats to other farms and to people as pets. “The more socialized they are, the better it is for the goat and humans they belong to.”
As more than 100 people lined up to snuggle just before the herd’s evening feed on the last day in May, not all goats were ready to unwind. Some wiggled and writhed. Others clicked right into la la land.
Jessica Jarrett had the knack. As a tiny, multicolored goat lay dreamily in the Portlander’s arms, she explained the key: “A good firm snuggle.” Jarrett had never hugged a goat before, but her past experience as “a professional baby holder” came in handy.
Snuggling, with an animal or companion, speaks to a deep human need for warmth and tactile engagement. In fact, snuggling with strangers is a cottage industry in Portland.
Nuzzling with kids, it turns out, is right up there with seeing the Grand Canyon, hang gliding or completing the Appalachian Trail.
“It’s on their bucket list. Holding a small baby animal, a sheep, a goat a cow — something that’s different from your normal pet store animal,” Knight said. “It’s definitely soothing.”
Dori Diebold of Cape Elizabeth, who visited Smiling Hill’s petting area and ice cream stand when her daughter was young, checked it off her list. “The opportunity to snuggle goats came up on my Facebook feed last night, and I thought, ‘Who wouldn’t want to snuggle a goat?’”