Putting Cows in VR Can Be Beneficial, but Cruel, Experts Say

The Mootrix Resurrections?

Key Takeaways

  • Some Turkish cows are getting virtual reality headsets to keep them entertained.
  • Russian authorities claim that VR can help cows produce more milk.
  • But an animal rights group says that VR for cows is cruel.
Close-Up Of Cow Wearing Eyeglasses

Shiv Mer / EyeEm / Getty Images

Many humans enjoy virtual reality (VR), so why not cows? 

Using VR on more than just people seems to be the thinking behind a new effort to provide cows with high-tech entertainment during the winter. Cows on a farm in Turkey are being outfitted with VR gear, but animal rights activists are crying foul. 

The VR "likely stresses and frightens these deprived cows," Catie Cryar, a spokesperson for animal rights group PETA, told Lifewire in an email interview. "PETA can think of few things more dystopian or despicable than confining a cow for a lifetime to a filthy pen, stealing every baby she has from her, and treating her like a milk machine until her body gives out, all while using virtual reality (VR) goggles to show her the picturesque life she'll never have, in order to try to increase her milk production."

Got VR?

Reports say cattle breeder Izzet Kocak is strapping VR headsets onto some of his 180 cows. It’s an attempt to reduce stress levels among the bovines during the long winter when they’re often cooped up in a barn. Kocak said the experiment has allowed the cows to increase their milk production from 22 liters to 27 liters. 

It’s not Kocak’s first attempt to keep his cows happy. He also plays classical music for his herd but claims the VR experiment has been so successful he plans to buy ten more headsets. 

cow on arm wearing a black virtual reality headset

Russian Ministry of Agriculture and Food

The virtual reality experiment for cattle started in Russia (via Google translate), where Moscow's Ministry of Agriculture and Food said happier cows produce more milk. Moscow farmers have reported positive results playing classical music for cows, too, the ministry said. 

"In addition to physical needs, researchers began to pay more attention to the emotional state of animals," the ministry said in the news release. "Examples of dairy farms from different countries show that the quantity, and sometimes the quality, of milk in a calm atmosphere, increase markedly." 

Many dairy farms around the world are trying to improve the lives of cows. American farmers, for instance, are installing automatically rotating brushes in their stalls to simulate a masseur for cows, the ministry said. In Europe, robotic systems ensure the maximum free movement of livestock around the farm.

"Reducing stress is wonderful for any animal, but it is only visual."

So, the next logical step, according to the ministry, was to go full-on VR. In collaboration with veterinarians and production consultants, the developers of a virtual reality studio adapted human VR glasses to a cow's head. 

"Building on numerous studies of cattle vision, showing cows' perception of reddish tones better and fewer greens and blues in cows, VR architects have also created a unique summer field simulation program," the ministry said.

Cruel to Be Kind?

Agricultural expert Mindy S McIntosh-Shetter told Lifewire in an email interview that there might be something to the idea of giving cows VR headsets. 

"Reducing stress is wonderful for any animal, but it is only visual," she said. "It does not allow the animal to have a full sensory experience. Now the flip side, while dogs outside on chains do have a full sensory experience, they are still under stress. My opinion is anything that allows an animal to be happy is a humane approach."

PETA disagrees. In fact, the animal rights group has its own VR program called "I, Calf," which allows a human to experience what life is like on a farm from the cow's perspective. 

The program puts users "in a calf's place, from her forceful removal from her mother's udder to being transported in all weather conditions to a slaughterhouse, the ultimate fate of all cows used for dairy," Cryar said. "Because plant-based milks are better for human health, the environment, and cows, PETA suggests cutting out dairy and going vegan."

Whether it's cows or humans, the future of VR is sure to meet some controversy.

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