A new milk-production technique being tried out by farmers in Moscow: strapping dairy cows with a modified virtual-reality (VR) headset to simulate a summer field. Turns out the VR view reduces the cows’ anxiety and improves their overall mood. It’s not yet clear how this affects milk production. That study will be next on the agenda.
There’s no doubt about it: cows are happier in fields than confined farms or factories, even if those fields are virtual. The VR simulation had colors tuned specifically to cows’ eyes, meant to give them a calming, pleasing landscape. The headsets were also adapted to the “structural features” of cows’ heads for them to see.
This may seem like an ideal solution, but it might not actually be best for the cows if this trend spreads. No matter what “view” they’re looking at, dairy cows still often suffer inhumane and dangerous conditions in farms and factories. Critics are also considering the risk of disturbing cows when the headsets are taken off, as well as issues of battery life of the headsets and disorienting the cows.
However, this could make a dairy cow’s short life more comfortable. A cow’s natural lifespan is up to 25 years, but a dairy cow’s life only lasts 4 to 5 years. Many dairy cows are in cramped spaces and may suffer infections like mastitis, a painful udder inflammation caused by the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to increase their milk production.
But as resolutions to these issues are pursued, virtual reality could help make the conditions of dairy cows more humane and comfortable. It would be ideal for cows to be able to roam free in fields, but the reality is many spend their entire lives in factories. A cow with a VR headset might be a funny image, but it’s already proven to reduce anxiety and improve the animal’s quality of life.