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Cows as compasses
August 25, 2008 10:03 PM   Subscribe

Using images from Google Earth, scientists have determined that grazing cattle and deer align themselves with the Earth's magnetic field.
posted by Knappster (89 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
The scientists were unable to distinguish between the head and rear of the cattle, but could tell that the animals tended to face either north or south.

Their study ruled out the possibility that the Sun position or wind direction were major influences on the orientation of the cattle.


How did they rule out the influence of these?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:10 PM on August 25, 2008


How did they rule out the influence of these?

They took away their sundials and weather vanes.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:12 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


From the article: Their study ruled out the possibility that the Sun position or wind direction were major influences on the orientation of the cattle.

It doesn't seem to say how the study ruled this out. The article also didn't seem to posit any possibility for the behavior other than the earth's magnetic field. While I was reading the article, I figured that if I were a cow, I wouldn't want to stand aligned east-west because then either the sun would be in my eyes or my own shadow would be obscuring the grass I was trying to munch.

Can anyone here think of any other phenomena or environmental factor that the grazing animals could be reacting to? Maybe it all boils down to magnetic fields in the end, but I'm not convinced that the animals are directly responding to them.

Also, would/does this sort of thing qualify as a sense? Does it already have a name?
posted by chudmonkey at 10:13 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, would/does this sort of thing qualify as a sense? Does it already have a name?

Magnetoception.
posted by luftmensch at 10:20 PM on August 25, 2008


cheers, luftmensch.
posted by chudmonkey at 10:22 PM on August 25, 2008


I figured that if I were a cow, I wouldn't want to stand aligned east-west because then either the sun would be in my eyes or my own shadow would be obscuring the grass I was trying to munch.

This is only true if you're on the equator.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:25 PM on August 25, 2008


The paper is here, for those with academic access. Abstract is free.
posted by Upton O'Good at 10:25 PM on August 25, 2008


I wonder if any predators have evolved to take advantage of any blind spots this alignment causes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:30 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


It is very very -- very -- hard for me to believe nobody has noticed this before, unless it is not as consistent as the article insinuates. Variously bored and interested people have spent a lot of time watching these animals stand around, for centuries, and have grasped far more subtle traits of their behavior than this.

And that's all I have to say about it.
posted by Bokononist at 10:33 PM on August 25, 2008 [11 favorites]


I'm with you Bokononist. I have seen cows affected by wind and sun.
posted by JackFlash at 10:39 PM on August 25, 2008


Just great. I am sure hunters will figure out how this can help them kill deer more efficiently.
posted by Mr_Zero at 10:41 PM on August 25, 2008


Just great. I am sure hunters will figure out how this can help them kill deer more efficiently.

I wish they'd hurry. I'm tired of smashing into them on the highways, back roads, even city streets in upstate NY. I'm tired of them using up all their winter grazing because there's so many and devastating the landscaping around our homes, increasingly further into town every winter. A couple of seasons I tried to do my part but never saw a one! If there's any trick here, it should be found soon, for the good of people and also the deer.
posted by no1hatchling at 11:06 PM on August 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


And they laughed when I suggested a bovine-based GPS unit.
posted by mecran01 at 11:15 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is only true if you're on the equator.

Sorry, but you're mistaken. I live well away from the equator and this morning I saw the sun rise from the east and set to the west. Maybe it wasn't exactly east or exactly west, but it was close enough for me and the article doesn't indicate that the grazing animals are as picky as you in their determination.
posted by chudmonkey at 11:17 PM on August 25, 2008


I wish they'd hurry. I'm tired of smashing into them on the highways, back roads, even city streets in upstate NY. I'm tired of them using up all their winter grazing because there's so many and devastating the landscaping around our homes, increasingly further into town every winter. A couple of seasons I tried to do my part but never saw a one! If there's any trick here, it should be found soon, for the good of people and also the deer.

I wish hunters would start applying that logic to humans.
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:18 PM on August 25, 2008


Of course I mean that the sun set this evening, not this morning. What a difference a missing "it" makes.
posted by chudmonkey at 11:20 PM on August 25, 2008


Can't wait to hear Karl Pilkington's explanation for this.
posted by dhammond at 11:25 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Maybe someone has been busy photoshopping them.
posted by tellurian at 11:37 PM on August 25, 2008


highly unscientific.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 11:42 PM on August 25, 2008


Maybe it wasn't exactly east or exactly west, but it was close enough for me and the article doesn't indicate that the grazing animals are as picky as you in their determination.

The article is pretty poorly written and scarce on details, but I was figuring that determining the animals' alignment was with the magnetic field and not the sun or wind or etc. meant that they were being pretty picky. But, you know.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:48 PM on August 25, 2008


I would have thought it would be better to stand facing random directions, or in a circle, so that every possible direction a predator can come from is covered.

OTOH, maybe if they all face in the same direction it's easier to munch-'n'-move as a group along parallel non-overlapping grazing routes, without encountering areas of grass that have already been eaten by another cow. Perhaps aligning with the Earth's magnetic field is a convenient way for them to co-ordinate this.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 11:57 PM on August 25, 2008


I figured that if I were a cow, I wouldn't want to stand aligned east-west because then either the sun would be in my eyes or my own shadow would be obscuring the grass I was trying to munch.

Same here, except that I would want to spend 50% of my time facing north and the other 50% facing south, so that I wasn't always warming the same side of my body. However the article says that about one third of deer faced south. Why not half?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 12:06 AM on August 26, 2008


but I was figuring that determining the animals' alignment was with the magnetic field and not the sun or wind or etc. meant that they were being pretty picky.

I think this is fair reasoning, and I apologize for my aggressive snark, shakespeherian. You're right about the article's generally shabbiness, but I got the impression that the animals were "kinda", "mostly" facing north-south, not that there was any astonishingly precise alignments going on. Frankly, this article gives the impression that the scientists are idiots with no valid method, so obviously I need to go read the actual study.
posted by chudmonkey at 12:13 AM on August 26, 2008


Proof!
posted by tellurian at 12:16 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Using Google Maps, I have determined that human beings in North America tend to build their homes along east-west and north-south alignments. This effect can be seen more consistently in denser population centers. I have ruled out the influences of sunlight and wind by deciding it didn't matter. The reasons behind this alignment are unknown, and will take more study to determine.

I can has grant to study more?
posted by davejay at 12:52 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Anecdotal: I prefer sleeping with my head to the North. No, I'm not a cow. Shut up! I'm not fat!

No, seriously. All other criteria for a good night's sleep being met, I'll eventually arrange my bed so I can sleep pointing north. It's not so pronounced that if I'm out camping I'll camp with my head downhill to face North, nor would I move the bed in a motel for one night, but if I'm there for more than a few days (and I have a reason/need for quality sleep) I'll probably rearrange things so I can sleep facing North.

It just sort of happens. It's not OCD. I don't plan for it. I don't really think about it except post-facto. I wasn't even aware I was doing it until a few years ago and I noticed that I kept rotating in my sleep trying to point North, to the point that I'd find myself sideways in a bed, usually half hanging off of it. But blissfully asleep.

Right now my bed is just a few degrees off of magnetic North. I usually wake up angled across the bed a few degrees - pointing magnetic North.

I don't know what it is. I just sleep better.

And this is probably one of the craziest things I've ever written on MetaFilter. I don't care. :)
posted by loquacious at 12:54 AM on August 26, 2008 [7 favorites]


loquacious, I'm the same way. And I don't think we're alone.
posted by chudmonkey at 12:56 AM on August 26, 2008


A suggestion for a case study:

Strap a bunch of digital compasses onto grazing cattle, record results.
posted by tehloki at 1:02 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Anecdotal: I prefer sleeping with my head to the North. No, I'm not a cow. Shut up! I'm not fat!

No, seriously. All other criteria for a good night's sleep being met, I'll eventually arrange my bed so I can sleep pointing north. It's not so pronounced that if I'm out camping I'll camp with my head downhill to face North, nor would I move the bed in a motel for one night, but if I'm there for more than a few days (and I have a reason/need for quality sleep) I'll probably rearrange things so I can sleep facing North.

It just sort of happens. It's not OCD. I don't plan for it. I don't really think about it except post-facto. I wasn't even aware I was doing it until a few years ago and I noticed that I kept rotating in my sleep trying to point North, to the point that I'd find myself sideways in a bed, usually half hanging off of it. But blissfully asleep.

Right now my bed is just a few degrees off of magnetic North. I usually wake up angled across the bed a few degrees - pointing magnetic North.

I don't know what it is. I just sleep better.

And this is probably one of the craziest things I've ever written on MetaFilter. I don't care. :)


I am glad you posted that. I was going to post something similar. The only difference being, I end up facing South. Coincidence? I have actually noticed and wondered about the same thing for years.
posted by Mr_Zero at 1:06 AM on August 26, 2008


For those interested in the methodology, I've uploaded the study here.

Concerns of the influence of the wind and the sun seem to have been taken into account.
posted by wigglin at 1:32 AM on August 26, 2008


The only difference being, I end up facing South. Coincidence?

Well, if I can't face North, I'll take South. I haven't been in the Southern Hemisphere, but I wonder if I'd switch to facing South if I lived there.
posted by loquacious at 2:36 AM on August 26, 2008


They'd be cowmpasses, then.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 2:45 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Chudmonkey: Sorry, but you're mistaken. I live well away from the equator and this morning I saw the sun rise from the east and set to the west. Maybe it wasn't exactly east or exactly west, but it was close enough for me and the article doesn't indicate that the grazing animals are as picky as you in their determination.

True, but for the majority of the day the sun is roughly in the South (in the Northern Hemisphere) and so during that time the if aligned North-South the cow would either have the sun in its eyes or shadow on its grass.
posted by nfg at 2:57 AM on August 26, 2008


The scientists were unable to distinguish between the head and rear of the cattle
We're supposed to take the word of people who can't tell the arse end of a cow from t'other?
posted by Abiezer at 3:00 AM on August 26, 2008


I think they have their causation a little mixed up here.

It's clearly the cows that determine the direction of the Earth's magnetic field.
posted by Drexen at 3:11 AM on August 26, 2008 [14 favorites]


The article takes the above objections into account. Also, any alternate explanation having to do with solar alignment has to face the fact that the cows are aligning with the magnetic pole more closely than with the geographic pole.

There are still objections to be raised of course. They posit that the orientations of cows at night are not influenced by solar thermal regulation which sounds ok but...what if , for example, cows dont like to move much and stay at night in the position that worked for them during the day?
posted by vacapinta at 3:53 AM on August 26, 2008


Why is it that when pictures of the LHC are posted, MeFi drools over SCIENCE! but when someone notices a phenomenon and advances a hypothesis (i.e. actually does some science) MeFi gets a steel-bore hate-on?
posted by DU at 4:12 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Their study ruled out the possibility that the Sun position or wind direction were major influences on the orientation of the cattle.

BTW, one way to do this would be via magnetic declination. If the animals are pointed towards magnetic north rather than geographic north (especially all over the Earth) then it is likely not a solar issue.

Also, I think some in the comments here are getting confused thanks to poor science writing. They cows are obviously not standing rigidly in perfectly north-pointing ranks (despite the photos). This would clearly be a tendency or a peak in some gaussian distribution. Thus the farmer in the article, and our own confused MeFite, asking why nobody noticed this. It's a probabilistic thing, which makes it a lot more subtle.
posted by DU at 4:19 AM on August 26, 2008


Have they tested this in a controlled environment with an artificial magnetic field?
posted by Eideteker at 4:21 AM on August 26, 2008


scientists have determined that grazing cattle and deer align themselves with the Earth's magnetic field.

No, they haven't. They have determined that cows align themselves along the north-south axis. This doesn't mean that magnetic fields are necessarily responsible—correlation does not equal causation.
posted by greenie2600 at 4:27 AM on August 26, 2008


This doesn't mean that magnetic fields are necessarily responsible—correlation does not equal causation.

For the Nth time, the cows are aligning with the north-south MAGNETIC axis, which is slightly different than the North-South GEOGRAPHIC axis.

In any case, the authors only present the data. They dont make any speculation as to why this should be the case.
posted by vacapinta at 4:39 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


'It is very very -- very -- hard for me to believe nobody has noticed this before, unless it is not as consistent as the article insinuates. Variously bored and interested people have spent a lot of time watching these animals stand around, for centuries, and have grasped far more subtle traits of their behavior than this.'

Variously bored and interested people have spent a lot of time watching both the skies and people standing around for centuries, and came up with astrology.

It would be a mistake to take anything less than a scientific study like this as good evidence.

Plus I suspect in centuries gone by that while compasses were available, they were not a good investment for shepherds and other livestock farmers.
posted by edd at 5:17 AM on August 26, 2008


You don't need a compass to know which way is which. There's this thing called the sun.
posted by greenie2600 at 5:28 AM on August 26, 2008


'You don't need a compass to know which way is which. There's this thing called the sun.'
Did you miss the point about it being better aligned with the magnetic north than geographical north?
posted by edd at 5:37 AM on August 26, 2008


I should point out the authors of the paper agree with Bokononist and not me.
'It is amazing that this ubiquitous conspicuous phenomenon apparently has remained unnoticed by herdsmen and hunters for thousands of years.'
posted by edd at 5:46 AM on August 26, 2008


All the while I was reading the article, the scene from Huckleberry Finn kept going through my head:


"If fifteen cows is browsing on a hillside, how many of them eats with their heads pointed the same direction?"

"The whole fifteen, mum."

"Well, I reckon you HAVE lived in the country...."



Oh, and that Willy Miller in the article? I refuse to believe he's a cattle farmer. I grew up in a rural area--anyone with eyes to see would notice the cows all facing the same direction.
posted by magstheaxe at 5:56 AM on August 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


'You don't need a compass to know which way is which. There's this thing called the sun.'

Did you miss the point about it being better aligned with the magnetic north than geographical north?

You could still notice your cows were all pointed the same way--you don't have to notice they are pointed north particularly. (Or if you do, it could be "northwardish" vs "omgexactlymagnetic".)

That said, there's tons of less subtle stuff people missed for centuries. Like blood flow. The non-spontaneous origins of maggots. Germs. The fact that objects of different weights fall at the same acceleration. And so forth.
posted by DU at 6:00 AM on August 26, 2008


Paging Shannon Larratt! Anyone remember his mefi name? I want to know if he grazes south to north.
posted by es_de_bah at 6:07 AM on August 26, 2008


at google maps, the latest bunch of photos have come in ...

"let's see ... hmm, cows facing west ... can't use that one ... cows facing south ... ok ... facing east ... no good ... yep"

"paul, why do you keep doing that shit? no one's ever going to notice"
posted by pyramid termite at 6:25 AM on August 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Ages ago, the Journal of Irreproducible Results published an article on why a herd of cows stand facing the same direction in a field. Their explanation? Bovinity flux rays emanating from ore deep within in the earth. The stick figure drawings of cattle were particularly convincing.
posted by plastic_animals at 6:32 AM on August 26, 2008


I just saw an old QI episode on which they mentioned that you should have the head of your bed facing north for good feng shui. They started riffing on whether true north or magnetic north applied. "I'm sorry, dear - I have to call my orienteer before we go on!"
posted by lukemeister at 6:35 AM on August 26, 2008


@Loquacious: Not crazy. From the study, posted by wigglin:

Indeed, in humans the rapid eye movement latency is shortened in the E-W position of sleepers compared with the N-S position (20), and statistically significant differences in the EEG of normal subjects have been found, depending on whether the subjects sit facing the N-S or E-W direction (21). [parenthetical numbers refer to references cited therein]
posted by beagle at 6:35 AM on August 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Assuming this is true (and it's already been suggested for migratory birds so it's not that much of a stretch), and the couple MeFites who claim to experience this in their sleep, I wonder if the fact that humans seem to be missing out on this extra sense is because we walk upright, with our spinal column perpendicular to the magnetic field?

How WOULD you test this in the lab? You'd need a pretty big lab!
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 6:35 AM on August 26, 2008


Paging Shannon Larratt! Anyone remember his mefi name? I want to know if he grazes south to north.

His mefi name is glider
posted by atrazine at 6:42 AM on August 26, 2008


we walk upright, with our spinal column perpendicular to the magnetic field?

No more perpendicular than an east-west cow. Or maybe your point is that we'd have a constant torque and so our brains would learn to ignore it? But I still think there's usable (if not useful) information there. The torque vector will still give you compass information, it will just be of constant magnitude.
posted by DU at 6:45 AM on August 26, 2008


I can't wait until we're in the middle of the next flip of the Earth's magnetic field. For a time, we'll have a homogeneous and isotropic distribution of cows, just like in standard cowsmological theories.
posted by lukemeister at 6:50 AM on August 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


lukemeister, I was actually reminded of another QI episode - the one where they're riffing on rats being magnetic and all facing the same direction, and Bill Bailey says "hence the phrase 'rat and true rat.'"
posted by marginaliana at 7:00 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's clearly the cows that determine the direction of the Earth's magnetic field.

If that's the case, a stampeding herd would electrify their own fences.
posted by CynicalKnight at 7:36 AM on August 26, 2008 [8 favorites]


a phenomenon that has apparently gone unnoticed by herdsmen and hunters for thousands of years.

Yeah, right.
posted by sciurus at 7:43 AM on August 26, 2008


They don't line themselves up according to magnetic fields! That's silly, people! What do cows know about magnetic fields? They're lining themselves up based on whether or not Santa gave them presents that year. Some are happy cows, others not so much–defiantly shunning Santa with their asses. Sadly, many cows won't be making his list again this year. And we all know what happens then...
posted by iamkimiam at 7:51 AM on August 26, 2008


DU wrote: Why is it that when pictures of the LHC are posted, MeFi drools over SCIENCE! but when someone notices a phenomenon and advances a hypothesis (i.e. actually does some science) MeFi gets a steel-bore hate-on?

It might be a cultural thing, I think.

Things like the LHC are made out of metal and plastic. You turn them "on" and they smash little Bosons together to make SCIENCE! It's very easy to understand for the mind raised on Star Trek or Babylon 5.

Once you start talking about magnetic fields influencing animal behavior, it gives some people a woo-woo New-Agey feeling. More magic than SCIENCE!, you might say. I disagree, of course. Animals using magnetism is pretty old-hat and uncontroversial. I think it just feels vaguely mystical to some people, hence the negative reaction.
posted by Avenger at 8:53 AM on August 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


we walk upright, with our spinal column perpendicular to the magnetic field?

No more perpendicular than an east-west cow. Or maybe your point is that we'd have a constant torque and so our brains would learn to ignore it?


I meant that a horizontal spinal column would be more aligned with the magnetic field lines. This is assuming that the spinal column has anything to do with it. I hadn't thought of torque, that's interesting....
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 8:56 AM on August 26, 2008


loquacious, I'm the same way. And I don't think we're alone.

Heh. loquacious and chudmonkey are in bed together.
posted by binturong at 9:18 AM on August 26, 2008


I meant that a horizontal spinal column would be more aligned with the magnetic field lines.

Right, and I meant that it wouldn't be. A magnetic line is (locally) straight north/south. A horizontal spine oriented east/west is exactly at 90 degrees to that line, just like a vertical spine.

The only difference is in torque. Imagine the spine to be a compass needle for clarity, but the math applies however this actually would work.

For the horizontal spine, the magnitude of the torque is at a maximum when oriented east/west and zero when oriented north/south. The torque vector will always be oriented up/down.

But for a vertical spine, the magnitude of the torque is a constant (because you are always perpendicular to the magnetic field) but the torque vector varies as you turn. You could imagine a ring of sensors where your spine enters your skull. As the magnetic field torques your spine, it's trying to turn it to face north. If the compass needle spine is pressing against the front sensors, you must be facing north. If it's pressing against the left sensors you must be facing east.
posted by DU at 9:19 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


They don't line themselves up according to magnetic fields!

maybe they prefer wilco
posted by pyramid termite at 9:56 AM on August 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


loquacious - which season were you born in?

Fung Shui (Chinese geomancy) suggests for people born in the cold months to sleep with their head pointing either South or East and for people born in the hot months to sleep with their head pointing either North or West for better sleep...
posted by porpoise at 10:00 AM on August 26, 2008


For the Nth time, the cows are aligning with the north-south MAGNETIC axis...

You sure have been cranky since toropinta went off to do the organizing for Project Bosphorus. This thread is not the place to blow his cover.
posted by kittyprecious at 10:19 AM on August 26, 2008


This would explain why cow magnets make the poor beasts spin in place.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:25 AM on August 26, 2008


chudmonkey writes "Can anyone here think of any other phenomena or environmental factor that the grazing animals could be reacting to?"

When things are less flat cows tend to graze along contour lines rather than face any particular direction.
posted by Mitheral at 10:27 AM on August 26, 2008


I meant that a horizontal spinal column would be more aligned with the magnetic field lines.

Right, and I meant that it wouldn't be. A magnetic line is (locally) straight north/south. A horizontal spine oriented east/west is exactly at 90 degrees to that line, just like a vertical spine./


So, if i understand you correctly- You're saying that a vertical spine COULD also be sensitive to magnetic fields, since there would still be torque. But wouldn't that force be much LESS for vertical spines than for horizontal ones? I would think a horizontal spine could be MORE sensitive to these forces, and so those animals would be MORE LIKELY to evolve sensitivity to magnetic fields.

I'm imagining the way iron filings arrange themselves in a magnetic field. Now imagine that those iron filings can move about of their own free will like cows and people, iron cows standing horizontally, iron people stubbornly standing vertically. Which ones are going to feel MORE COMPELLED to face North/South?
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 10:40 AM on August 26, 2008


I think I might have this one figured out.
posted by stet at 10:43 AM on August 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


But wouldn't that force be much LESS for vertical spines than for horizontal ones?

Actually, I think it would be more, on average. A vertical spine is always perpendicular (i.e. maximum torque) to the magnetic field whereas a horizontal one is only perpendicular if it happens to be pointing east/west.

Which ones are going to feel MORE COMPELLED to face North/South?

Neither, they are both equally perpendicular to the field.

I don't think you are visualizing the situation clearly. You seem to be thinking that the magnetic field is "horizontal" in some sense which "matches" cows better. A field line is just that--a line. It points north/south. Another line that is east/west is exactly as perpendicular as yet another line that is up/down would be. Adding a whole bunch more lines to that doesn't change anything.
posted by DU at 10:52 AM on August 26, 2008


How did they rule out the influence of these?

The idea is that the data from google maps shows them all sorts of cows in all sorts of areas with all sorts of weather during all different parts of the day, yet they align in this position.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:27 AM on August 26, 2008


I don't know about cows, but having the sun on your back sure feels nice most of the time.

If you are in the northern hemisphere, that means, wel, facing north in one way or the other.
posted by TravellingDen at 11:31 AM on August 26, 2008


"It is very very -- very -- hard for me to believe nobody has noticed this before"
I've noticed this before, and I'm not even a country boy. The conversation was something like:
Friend: "Why are all the cows and horses facing the same direction?"
Me: "They're magnetic."
Of course, I was joking and would have thought the wind direction or social interactions (or flocking behaviour) amongst herd animals to be more accurate explanations. But nobody was going to pay me to study satellite images and get to the bottom of it.
posted by nowonmai at 11:50 AM on August 26, 2008


What has been noticed is not that a herd is facing the same direction. What has been noticed is that that direction seems to be aligned with a compass.
posted by DU at 11:57 AM on August 26, 2008


stet,

It's hard enough getting my cat to swallow a pill. I'm glad I don't have to feed a magnet to my cow.
posted by lukemeister at 12:09 PM on August 26, 2008


Umm, but, but aren't cows and deer herd animals? Don't they move in the same general direction - like when they go for water or to new grazing?

I would argue that they face the same direction for that reason while grazing. Course, I'd actually have to read the paper, and that is more work than I am prepared to do right now.

The advantage of being ignorant is that I don't know what I don't know....
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 12:36 PM on August 26, 2008


When I was in middle school we visited the university where they had cattle with little holes in their sides where the vet student could remove a rubber plug, reach in, and grab a handful of cud piping hot from the rumen. And then replace it. Certainly inserting a magnet via this access panel would be a cinch. Maybe something similar for your cat?
posted by stet at 12:44 PM on August 26, 2008


Paging Shannon Larratt! Anyone remember his mefi name? I want to know if he grazes south to north.

That guy
is definitely aligned with the South.

posted by interrobang at 3:04 PM on August 26, 2008


Next up in your local supermarket: 100% Ley Line Beef
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:15 PM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


lukemeister writes "I'm glad I don't have to feed a magnet to my cow."

Having done both it's a lot easier to get the cow to eat the magnet.
posted by Mitheral at 4:00 PM on August 26, 2008


I don't think you are visualizing the situation clearly. You seem to be thinking that the magnetic field is "horizontal" in some sense which "matches" cows better. A field line is just that--a line. It points north/south. Another line that is east/west is exactly as perpendicular as yet another line that is up/down would be.

I understand that a vertical spine is just as perpendicular to N/S magnetic field lines as an E/W horizontal spine is. But my point is that as cows walk around, they CHANGE their alignment, whereas we upright humans are ALWAYS perpendicular to the field.

Going back to your first comment to me:
Or maybe your point is that we'd have a constant torque and so our brains would learn to ignore it?

Yes, now that i think about it some more, i think that was what i was getting at. Sorry if i was explaining it wrong..
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 4:19 PM on August 26, 2008


As DU points out, magnetic declination seems like a good test for whether the effect is due to sun angle with some offset that coincidentally mimics magnetic declination, or whether it's actually related to the local magnetic field. From the link wigglin posted (emphasis mine):
To evaluate whether geographic or magnetic north better predicts cattle orientation, we separately evaluated pastures originating from localities with naturally high positive and negative declination values. [...] When using magnetic north as a reference [instead of geographic north] the difference between the mean vectors was not significant [...], indicating that magnetic north is a much better predictor for the observed alignment to N-S than geographic north (Table 2).
(Also, DU, this doesn't look like a hate-on to me so much as people evaluating a published paper— in other words, SCIENCE!. The LHC hasn't produced any SCIENCE! yet anyway; it's just a lot of SHINY! TECHNOLOGY! until we get some data.)
posted by hattifattener at 9:15 PM on August 26, 2008


There are two basic kinds of people in the worldmetafilter:

Those who come into this thread and see an opportunity to discuss the merits and flaws of the science discussed in the article, and try to improve the signal/noise ratio just a little bit...

And those who come into this thread and see an opportunity to make lame puns about livestock.

I guess there's just no accownting for some people.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:30 PM on August 26, 2008


What a bull-headed attitude to take, Tomorrowful. Ewe ought to round up that attitude.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:43 PM on August 26, 2008


Animal Magnetism: the Amazing and Weird Ways Animals Are Affected by the Earth’s Magnetic Field
posted by homunculus at 5:42 PM on September 19, 2008


A 10-foot spinning orb to replicate Earth’s magnetic field
posted by homunculus at 5:45 PM on September 19, 2008


i've been doing quite a lot of driving around this week between kalamazoo, ft wayne, south bend and south haven - on those trips i've had the opportunity to observe several herds of cows

they do not all face the same way - there are always a few - or more - facing in a different direction

they do not necessarily face north or south

and it's obvious that there is no evidence on google that tells us what direction cows face when it's cloudy
posted by pyramid termite at 5:56 PM on September 19, 2008


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