Virtual reality goggles for dairy cows? Pull the udder one

Dairy farmers in Russia are putting virtual reality headsets on their cows to encourage them to eat more grass. Of course, we initially thought this rather amoosing story was a load of bull, but it appears it’s not as udderly ridiculous as it first sounds. (Look, it’s not every day we happen upon a story about cows wearing VR glasses, so don’t be surprised that we’re milking it for all its worth).

OK, enough.

Cows with VR goggles. Yes, it seems like it really is a thing. In Russia, that is. A press release from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region that was picked up by the Moscow Times explains how environmental conditions can impact a cow’s health and, as a consequence, affect the quality and quantity of the milk that it produces. So far, so good.

Working at a dairy farm in Krasnogorsk, northwest of the Russian capital, researchers experimenting with the system modified a VR headset so that it would fit the cow’s head and ensure the animal had the best possible view of the content that was playing inside the device.

russian farmers stick vr goggles on cows to improve milk production cow glasses
Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region

While we’d like to imagine the animals are watching movies like the 2006 computer-animated comedy Barnyard, or even the 1980 Scorsese classic Raging Bull, it seems that the cows in question are actually being shown carefully selected shades of the color spectrum to create what the ministry described as “a unique summer field simulation program.”

In other words, if the weather is crap, or the scenery a little on the boring side, the visuals inside the headset are supposed to relax the cows and compel them to chomp enthusiastically on the grass like it was a beautiful summer’s day.

“During the first test, experts recorded a decrease in anxiety and an increase in the overall emotional mood of the herd,” the ministry said, suggesting that VR glasses could become a common feature on dairy cattle around the world in the near future. So long as this isn’t some kind of wacky publicity stunt.

We should know soon enough, as the ministry said the cow-based technology will be discussed at the upcoming International Agro-Industrial Dairy Forum in Moscow in February next year. Wait, what was that about a publicity stunt?

Technology is actually already widely used by dairy farmers for tasks such as automated milking and feeding, health monitoring, herd management, comfort and cleaning, and mating management. More recently, cow facial recognition technology that incorporates artificial intelligence has been trialed by U.S. dairy farmers to help them in their work. No really, it has.

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