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Hug a Cow & Cuddle With a Chicken at the Gentle Barn!


Thanks to the Gentle Barn for hosting us and helping us to learn more about these amazing animals. All thoughrs are my own. 

Have you ever hugged a cow? Cuddled with a chicken? Rubbed a pig's belly? If not, then you are in for a treat! Visit the Gentle Barn to experience all this and more! 

The Gentle Barn, an animal rescue farm, has three locations across the US in California, Missouri, and Tennessee. They hope to add other locations so that they can serve even more animals and communities!

Created out of a dream, founder Ellie Laks, seeks sanctuary spaces for animals who might have been abused, neglected, or headed towards slaughter. The original location, Tarzana CA, was founded in 1999 on a half acre. 

As the non-profit grew and word spread about rehabilitating animals in need, the location moved to Santa Clarita and now resides on six acres. 

Immediately after taking in animals, the site opened to the public for visits to all people and developed an animal-therapy program focused on healing those with trauma, such as at-risk youth, abused children, and even drug & gang members. 

Later on, a second location opened in Knoxville (in 2015) but as they grew, they needed room to spread and made their home in Christiana, TN. A third location opened in Ditmer, Missouri in 2019. 

Our visit was at the Tennessee location, located about 45 mins outside of Nashville.  This location has several acres of land for animals to roam, play, and learn to trust humans again. The Tennessee origins began in Knoxville, as a cow that became known as Dudley, was rescued from slaughter after getting baling twine caught around his foot. 

A friend of the rancher reached out to the organization to see if they could help Dudley, as he was receiving no treatment and lost his foot due to the baling twine. Dudley was rescued and spent 5 months at the University of Tennessee Veterinary hospital, eventually receiving the first-ever cow prosthetic leg! 

Dudley learned to walk on his leg and loved playing ball! After a couple of years of healing, both himself and humans, Dudley sadly passed away, but his legacy still lives on in the other animals that Gentle Barn has taken in.

Prior to our arrival, we were given instructions about what to wear, what to expect, and what rules to abide by. As this is a safe sanctuary space for animals, the organization requests its guests do not bring any meat, dairy, cheese onto the property. Long pants, closed toed shoes, bug spray, water, etc. ae all recommended. The Gentle Barn does require advanced waivers to fill out, which is super easy to do online. 

Following directions via GPS, we made our way to the front gate. I had received several texts and emails from the Program Director, Terry, prior to our arrival, which made me comfortable about visiting. Terry opened the gate to us and gave us instructions on where to park and meet her.

When you first enter the property, drive up to the right and park at the top of the hill near the house. There is a group of picnic tables located in front of the home, with a very pictureqsue view of the farm. You will immediately see, hear, and even smell all the Gentle Barn animals!

Terry promptly met us with one of her volunteers, who was a tour- guide in training, and began by telling us the Gentle Barn story. We learned about Ellie Lak, founder, and her dream, as well as how this place came into being, and all about Dudley the Cow. There was ample time to ask questions and learn as well!

Next, we headed down the hill towards the barn. She gave us the option of walking or using their golf cart, and since it was a fairly nice day, we opted to walk and get our steps in. Really, it's nt that bad of a walk up or down hill, unless you have some mobility difficulties. 

We first met a couple of the horses, but they were being groomed by the farrier, so we decided to circle back to them later and moved on to the goats and sheep.

The Tennessee location currently has about ten sheep that LOVE to love on humans! They loved to receive pets, scratches, and like sheep do, follow you around until you give it to them. Rescued from slaughter, they love to eat, frolic, and play in their playground and home!

The Gentle Barn goats are very amusing. Momma, Daddy, and daughter all reside together, playing with the sheep and each other. One of the goats, Lolli, was born on a freezing cold day. She didn't get the help she needed and lost her backfeet + ears to frostbite. Because she has no use of backfeet, she's now fitted with a wheelchair that she absolutely loves! Watch your toes, because she's a rambuncious girl with a heart to match. She loves headbutting, loves running over people's feet, and loves the pets.. on her terms only. Momma and Daddy are always nearby, helping her to stay out too much trouble, but glad that she is still with them. 

Next up, we visited two pot belly pigs named Yin & Yang. Their story is completely amusing! They lived next door to the farm and kept escaping. After several attempts at returning them to the owners, the Gentle Barn reached out to their neighbors and offered to keep them. It turns out that Yin & Yang were designated to become meat during the winter, and most likely they knew that they could have a long happy healthy life at the Gentle Barn! These pigs are kept separate from the big pigs because of size and energy, but they absolutely love pig belly rubs, head scratches, and attention. 

We also got to meet the chickens, roosters, and turkeys that had been hurt in some manner. I've grown up around these birds (mostly on farms raised for meat), and I've never really liked them. In fact, there's a photo of my sister and I (around age 4/ 5) of us being chased by birds bigger than we are! Yet, the birds at Gentle Barn are so gentle, and trusting of the humans that protect and care for them. Aprons are attached to their rears if their feathers and fans were ripped or torn in some way. 

I even held one of the chickens! She was so quiet in my arms and cuddled up next to my chest! 

The chickens and roosters love to hang out with Yin & Yang, especially during nap time, and we got to see how they love and protect each other. We also heard how they go on adventures together, exploring the property one walk or a short little flight at a time. 

As we moved on to the larger pigs, we encountered pigs that are around 1300 lbs big! These pigs are full-grown and love every bit of their human attention. Two of the pigs, Lillie and Dream, were resting in beautiful slumber when we arrived. We learned that if a pig wants human attention, typically they are belly out to the door. If they don't want attention, they are typically curled with their legs inward, warding off attention. Our guide, Terry, spoke to Lillie before approaching her and asked her if she wanted some belly rubs and to meet Terry's friends (us). Terry really respects the animals and their desires, and left Dream alone, who obviously didn't want human love or attention. Sometimes an animal just needs to nap without humans, ya know? 

Lillie LOVED our belly rubs and head rubs. She stayed resting, didn't move, but she snorted to show her appreciation of our love and attention. 

The other larger pigs were hanging out in their paddock eating, and weren't really too interested in meeting or seeing us, as food was on their mind. The pigs are well cared for, receiving lots of human love, but also protected from the sun with sunscreen, just like humans! 

Following our piggy visit, we walked over to the horses out in pasture. These guys were all rescued, in one way or another, from harmful and abusive situations. Several of the horses are related to each other, and are slowly learning to trust humans. 

I've always loved horses and even helped with them at Young Life Camp, leading trails at Windy Gap, but these guys weren't that much interested in us. I did manage to get the love of Indie, as she let me groom her and brush her! 

After hanging out with the horses for a while, we moseyed back up the hill to the cow pasture. Several cows are rehomed at the Gentle Barn, all with the intent of healing each other and us. I've never been that up close and personal with cows before, and while they are huge creatures, they are also incredibly gentle! Being brushed is one of the cow's favorite things, so we spent some time loving on them by brush, and we were even taught how to hug them! 

Finally, it was time to depart, and after hitting up the gift shop, we made our way back to Nashville. We didn't forget the animals though, and probably won't ever forget their stories. These animals are resilent, and despite the neglect & abuse they have faced, they are strong creatures that have learned to trust us again! 

The Gentle Barn not only rescues animals but provides various therapies for humans in need of healing too. Animals are great creatures that help us heal in many different ways. Has your dog or cat ever sinced that you need some love and curl up beside you? Farm animals are no different, and can provide lots of relief. If you need to learn to trust again, consider one of the following programs. 

The Gentle Barn offer these types of programs:

  • Peace Enhancement
    • As animals overcome the maltreatment they received, in return they can help humans (both children & adults) heal from their own trauma. Learning to love these animals can help humans learn to love themselves after experiencing trauma in their lives.
  • Cow Hug Therapy
    • Find hope with one of these majestic creatures just by grasping them, holding on tight, and feeling their love and embrace back. Sessions are an hour long and can be done in tandem with talk therapy, or a person can just hug, cry, and scream with the cows as needed. Their large frames help provide a safe and comfortable experience to cling onto. 
    • Cow therapy is for ages 14+, is for two people max, and held in hour long sessions on certain days and times of the week. A donation of $200.00 is needed for Cow Hug Therapy. 
  • Equine Therapy
    • Spend time with Gentle Barn leaders learning to groom horses, take them for walks, and grow together by trusting and learning about each other. Learning how our body language intertwines with a horses is incredibly important and a skill learned in this session! These sessions are one- hour long, held on certain days and times during the week, and are for a max of two people ages 14+. These sessions also required a $200.00 donation. 
  • Barnyard Therapy
    • Spend time with the traditional b.nyard animals: sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens, and pigs. Rub bellies, cuddle, and pet to find your inner joy & peace. Petting these animals is so much fun and can give you a new outlook on life! Barnyard therapy sessions are for 2 people, $200.00 each hour long session. 
  • Educational Programs
    • Head out with your school, group, or organization to learn about the Gentle Barn and experience life on the farm. Geared towards grade level, children will brush animals, give belly rubs, pet the sheep, & more! Suggested donations are given along with minimum and maximum classroom sizes. 
  • People with Disabilities
    • Help your special needs group find love and feel safe as they experience the safety and sancticty these animals provide. 

If you want to experience life on the farm and spend time with the animals, be sure to visit the Gentle Barn on a Sunday. Your family can experience rubbing pig's bellies, petting the sheep, brushing the cows & more. Tickets are $20.00 for adults & $10 for children (Ages 2-12). 

Reservations are required and Terry let us know that often Sundays are extremely busy, so be sure to plan ahead and don't wait until last minute for reservations. Of course, since the farm is outside, your visit is dependent upon weather.

If you happen to live near the Gentle Barn in Christiana, I'd check out the Sunday Day Pass. A donation of $75 can help reserve an annual pass for you to go out and visit any Sunday that you would like!

The Gentle Barn also offers private experiences: Group Tours, Family Tours, Party Tours & More will help you and your friends experience the animals and farm. We participated in the Family Tour and were given great attention from the staff and animals. 

I imagine Sundays are much busier and you might not get individual attention like we received on our visit. We were able to individually meet the animals, not be rushed, and spend slightly over two hours with our guides learning about the Gentle Barn. 

This experience seems steep at $400.00 but when you consider everything the Gentle Barn does, the cost to rescue & care for animals, and the cost to help educate the public, it really is not at all! It is well- worth it to spend half your day at the farm, learning about the animals and loving them. In return, you leave feeling loved and fulfilled yourself! 

All three of us loved our Gentle Barn experience. 

Each of us has a favorite animal that we loved visiting:

  • Me- bonding with the horses
  • Abbie- the pot bellied pigs
  • Connie- the sheep. 

We respected the animals who didn't want human interaction and we loved on the animals who wanted us to love on them. I know that I left feeling joyful and hopeful, and much lighter than when I had started out on the visit. 

Right now the Gentle Barn TN is almost at capacity. They have room for a couple of more animals, but the cost to properly care for and maintain the farm is expensive, so they are very selective about who they help. 

Their dream is open up a Gentle Barn in every state so that animals everywhere have a safe sanctuary to call home. Unforunately, animals are often abused and neglected, and always need safe places to live. The Gentle Barn hopes that by having several locations, they can teach others to share love with animals everywhere. 

I hope that you consider visiting a Gentle Barn location near you and learning about the animals that they rescue. In return, you might learn more about yourself and love a tad bit harder! This is the perfect way for families of all ages to get outside of Nashville and spend some time road tripping. The countryside is beautiful and the drive is rather easy too! 

Want to visit?

The TN Gentle Barn location is located at: 9295 Christiana Fosterville Road, Christiana, TN 37037

Reserve your private Family Tour here.

Follow the Gentle Barn on Socials to see and learn about their animals. 

Facebook, Instagram, TikTok

What animal would you love to meet?

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