Does Ben & Jerry's Really Give Its Cows Massages?

Ever since Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened their first ice cream shop in 1978, their namesake brand has been driven by the principles of kindness and caring. The company is known for its peace-promoting activism, particularly in the name of environmental welfare. Ben & Jerry's pioneered algae-based food coloring with the Marshmallow Sky pint, and the company's participation in the Fair Trade program is one reason why Ben & Jerry's is so expensive compared to other brands. But ethics have always seemed to be the driving factor.


For the past decade, rumors that the ice cream brand regularly massages its dairy cows have floated around on the internet. So when HuffPost ran an article in 2013 claiming this, many believed it. It seemed in line with the company's image, but is it really true? Chowhound spoke to Ben & Jerry's to find out. We learned that while the cows don't receive massages specifically, they do get another kind of spa treatment, and it's one that cows probably enjoy more.

Ben & Jerry's Caring Dairy program

Tom Gates, the Values Led Dairy Specialist for Ben and Jerry's, told Chowhound that "We believe the reference to massages was the result of the cow brush requirement," which is part of the company's Caring Dairy program. The Caring Dairy program offers financial rewards to farmers that meet a specific set of criteria. These include providing dairy cows with nutrient-rich feed, participating in soil testing, pursuing biodiversity initiatives, and providing clean, safe, and dignified conditions for cows and farm workers alike.


According to Gates, "Here in the U.S., Caring Dairy farmers are required to be audited to the Global Animal Partnership." The G.A.P. is an independent third-party that assesses animal welfare, and part of its standards include providing cow brushes. These are big, stationary brushes, a bit like those at a car wash, which cows can rub up against to groom themselves. That's not all, as Ben & Jerry's notes the G.A.P. requires "on-farm enrichments such as hanging balls for play."

Cows love grooming with brushes

Rubbing against a big, bristly brush might not sound as luxurious as a massage to us humans, but cows can't get enough of it. Grooming is a very important ritual for cows, and they can often be seen rubbing against trees to clean their coats. Cow brushes simulate this experience by providing a rough but comfortable surface for cows to rub themselves against.


For cows, grooming seems to hold a particularly strong appeal. Studies have shown that cows are equally as motivated by grooming as they are by food, and cows rubbing up against brushes often have half-closed eyes, suggesting a state of blissful contentment. Cows even groom in groups, suggesting that brushing may play a role in herd bonding.

Cows seem to respond to brushing in a similar way to how we humans respond to a massage, which is probably how people ended up confused. Every Ben & Jerry's flavor is a testament to these practices. As Ben & Jerry's told us, "Our goal is to have excellent animal care on all of our participating farms."