I’ve just read an article in the New Scientist about Magnetic Cows. Grazing cows tend to align north-south, according to a new study of 308 herds based on satellite photos from Google Earth.
A biologist at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, Hynek Burda, and his team scoured satellite images of herds on six continents identifying more than 8000 beef and dairy cattle and found that the animals orientations weren’t random. The average size of each one’s deviation from north-south was just five degrees.
‘The animals’ orientation suggests that, like migratory birds, sea turtles and monarch butterflies, they can sense the Earth’s magnetic field, says Hynek Burda.’
Further analysis of the cattle showed that in certain locations, where the angle between geographic and magnetic poles differs most, or in places where geology creates a stronger field, the cattle orient more in line with magnetic poles. In Oregon, Heidi, which is 44 degrees north and has a strong field, apparently your cattle face 17.5 degrees off true north towards magnetic north. Would you mind getting out there with your compass, plotting chart and dividers and let me know if this is so? I’d really appreciate your input!
Why is there a need for cattle to have this internal compass? The clue may go back to their ancient ancestor, the auroch, which lived and grazed over vast areas of grasslands, prairies, savannahs and steppes or in dense forest, without landmarks. But interestingly in the 10,000 years we’ve been keeping domesticated cattle this geomagnetic sensitivity has gone unnoticed and herd alignment has always been put down to avoiding the wind and weather, sun basking or huddling together for warmth. Which is certainly what I thought.
I quickly dashed out to look at the cattle this evening; it was, as normal, lashing down with rain and blowing up a storm, the herd was at the bottom of Rutleigh, under the worst of the weather, and…they were all grazing south-north! More observation needed. Do let me know about cattle you come across.