We’ve been waiting for Virtual Reality since long before we saw the ads for the Playstation 9. The good news is that you can get a VR headset now. The bad news is that there won’t be any spores tapping directly into your adrenal glands from a gorgeous transparent sphere. What does that have to do with cows in Russia? A surprising amount since some lucky dairy farm cows are getting specialized VR headsets. You’re probably wondering why Russian farmers are strapping VR headsets to dairy cows, and before you ask, no, this is not some strange new form of animal testing for safety features. We’ll share the details below.
Stressed Out Cows
Dairy cows often live in a crowded environment with numerous other cows in close proximity. Just like people, most cows don’t like feeling crowded in. It can make them edgy, afraid, anxious. If you’re like us, you may have laughed the first time someone told you there was such a thing as animal psychologists. We feel bad about that laughter now that we understand more about how animals think and feel, but it was a pretty amusing mental image when we were younger. Imagining a housepet sitting on a doctor’s couch telling the ‘shrink’ about their mother gave us the grins.
Now that we know better, it’s hard to imagine animals as unthinking and unfeeling. Obviously, suboptimal living conditions are cured with better living conditions. We’re not quite sure how it works out that VR headsets are cheaper than buying a bigger farm. However, we recognize that that isn’t always an option for people or farm animals to simply upgrade their living space for convenience’s sake, or at all in some cases. While it’s sad that, given all the space on Earth, especially in Russia, there’s not some way to give them more freedom to run around, we do like that the farmers are working on creative solutions for stressed-out cows.
More than just packed dairy farm conditions, cows in Russia have additional challenges. No, this isn’t a joke about communism. Russia is a frigid country. Winters are long and harsh. Even free-roaming cows there have to spend a large portion of their year indoors to keep from freezing. Through the miracle of modern technology, cows can gaze at a sunny springtime field even in the depths of winter, and doing so helps them stay happier.
Testing VR for Cows
As it turns out, fixing the cows with a specialized VR headset may be a great solution. At the moment, the tests are going well. Cows who’ve been outfitted with a simulated environment seem to have overall lower stress levels, which is good for them no matter how you look at it. Calmer cows are less likely to stampede, injuring themselves, and others in the herd. Most dairy cows weigh about fifteen hundred pounds on average. In an enclosed space, even one panicked dairy cow is almost a ton of beef, bone, and freakout doing a whole lot of damage.
The initial study was done on a farm in Krasnogorsk, northwest of Moscow. We can only imagine what the neighbors thought when they first saw these futuristic-looking farm animals. The results showed promise and produced evidence of better overall moods and less stress in the herds.
The Moscow region agriculture administration didn’t just wake up one morning, yell Eureka and decide to strap headsets on cows. Incidentally, the idea is related to some studies done by Dutch and Scottish researchers. They tested cows for their reactions to mood music. As a result, they learned that cows who listened to relaxing music produced up to three percent more milk. Heightened milk production is a heck of an incentive to play some classical tunes or slow jazz down on the farm.
In addition to the obvious, VR headsets for cows have to be specially made for their heads; there are other adjustments to the cows’ hardware. For one thing, it’s tough. We mean, farm life, in the middle of a herd of cows who jostle around. That’s a very hardy headset. Will that lead to further advancements in human VR tech to make it more durable? We don’t know, but it’s possible.
The other intriguing adaptation on the bovine Virtual Reality headsets is the color shift. Cows see the red end of the color spectrum much better, so the researchers have made some tweaks to the digital environment to make it more cow friendly. The headsets provide more reds than other colors, which give cows eyes a real treat in terms of seeing what they want to, instead of a frozen snowy landscape.
Lives of Cows
Unhappy people are substantially more likely to spend time on TV and video games. We like the escape from a dull, frustrating, or boring reality so much we can even become addicted to it. Doing a study like this raises some tough ethical questions about how the cows may react long term. In Nature, a cow can live as much as twenty to twenty-five years, but cows who are raised for slaughter have average lifespans less than two years in most places. Meanwhile, a dairy cow is typically around for four to six years before being culled from a herd and sent on to become burgers and steaks. It’s hard to say whether a virtually augmented life would be ‘better’ or ‘worse’ for a cow, but one thing is sure, increasing their milk production is almost certainly tied to increasing their working lifespan.
Final Thoughts: Cows in Space
This is pure speculation, but we had to share this fun thought. Cows produce meat, milk, and methane gas. While we may not need more emissions here on Earth, happy Virtual Reality loving cows might someday be able to withstand the rigors of space travel. They could provide colonists with much-needed protein, and their gaseous emissions could even be harnessed to help provide a small power source since methane burns well. We know that’s a stretch right now, but who knows what the future holds? Maybe Russian farmers will be the ones helping to fuel the next great space race, and they’ll send their VR cows out with colonists someday. What do you think of animals enjoying simulated environments? Let us know whether you find it deplorable or revolutionary in the comments below.