back to article Boffins finger reason for non-aligned cows

The scientists who brought the world proof that, in keeping with ancient lore, cows really do graze along a north-south axis, have found the reason they sometimes fail to display their natural animal magnetism. To recap, as we reported back in August last year, Sabine Begall and colleagues at the University of Duisburg-Essen …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Filippo Silver badge

    Extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields disrupt magnetic alignment of ruminants

    Made me chuckle.

  2. Gabriel Vistica
    Paris Hilton

    Wow. That is Interesting.

    And we care about this, why?

    Paris, because she doesn't care either.

  3. Basil Short_Trousers


    ... we can assume that if there are no power lines nearby then a ruminant can be used as a compass? What about if you suspend one in mid-air or wrap it in tin foil?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    just like to say

    What a load of bull-ocks

  5. david

    well its Paddys Day

    so what does this mean later when I feel the need to push one of these over later.

    I should take a compass and approach from the east unless there are overhead powerlines??

  6. Bassey

    But why?

    Is there any Darwinian advantage to be gained by bovine polar alignment?

    I think follow-up research is urgently required.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Remaining unanswered question

    Are cows like fluorescent tubes?

    If you stick them under a high tension cable, do they light up?

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Am I the first

    To call this a load of bullocks? Or a load of Bull?

    Did they bother to check the topography of the space? The fields might have been rectangular, and the cows might be aligned length-wise to maximise feeding efficiency by traversing in a straight line, without having to turn around for the next bite - like a hoover in a rectangular room,

    Or there might have been many cows and they aligned along the shorter edge of the rectangle, to maximise personal feeding space - like many hoovers in a rectangular room (all operational at the same time).

    Just browsing Google Earth does not constitute research.

    Could I get a grant to further investigate my lines of thought?

  9. A
    IT Angle


    I'm shocked that you missed the fact that the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is abbreviated to PNAS. It's caused more than one female scientist to turn red after realizing what they've just said.

  10. Ferry Boat

    Compass cow

    Why do they align north-south? Does the head always face one way and the pat-producer the other? Do they lie down when it rains? Do they really make shoes out of them? Are there red ones? If not, why is the pub down the road named after one?

    Who will answer my cow questions?

  11. Scott Swarthout

    I call Bull!

    No worries, I've already got it.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    That's actually quite interesting

    Would it also explain why humans sometimes prefer sleeping in a certain orientation? Like I prefer sleeping north-south (and can't get a good nights sleep at my flat compared to at my parent's home)?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Isn't the internet wonderful?

    Once upon a time there was field research. It often involved hard slog and getting your hands dirty - especially where cows were concerned. Then along came Gurgle Earth. Now "researchers" can sit around in their offices doing field research without going anywhere near a field.

    So the researchers sit chewing their own cud without doing any real research. This is proof, if proof were needed, that our days are numbered. We really are evolving along two seperate paths; those who use technology to make their lives ever easier and will breed a race of unhealthy, unfit, pasty faced (and therefore unattractrive) slobs; and the sporty types who don't use technology like this who will evolve into a healthy and attractive race. A few generations down the line it's unlikely that homo sporticus will want to interbreed with homo lazycus so the latter will become increasingly unlikely to survive since they probably won't have the energy or inclination to breed among themselves being more inclined to simply surf porn.

    Paris? She'll probably fall on the homo sporticus side, but the homo lazycus side will not doubt spend time browsing her videos.

  14. Gav
    Thumb Down

    Utter bull

    There are about a dozen other reasons why herds may tend towards grazing north-south. The mean direction of the sun may be significant enough (either to North or South).

    Like growth patterns of grass responding to the average direction of the sun. Or responding to predator behaviour that favours attacking out from one direction.

    Speculation about magnetic fields and power lines offers nothing like anything conclusive proof. And that's even before we consider why herds would care anything about magnetic fields.

  15. Youngdog

    Good old Occam

    Or perhaps, Dr Begall, you are wrong and there is no such thing as cattle alignment. Who knows why Cows face one way. Perhaps they like to catch the sun. You certainly don't see the effect with pigeons (proximity perhaps?) You have don't have to look at any fields to see the BS here

  16. Anonymous Scotsman

    @Wow. That is Interesting.

    Having been lost in the countryside far from a mobile receiver or even roadsigns of any kind, this insight would have saved me several hours of distress, given the number of cows I came across.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Just one question

    Did these boffins happen to record the direction of the enclosing fences?

  18. JimC
    IT Angle

    > and we care about this...

    Well, if genuine scientific evidence turns up that animal behaviour is affected by magnetic fields, and that man made electromagnetic fields like power lines and so on affect this then I'd say that was potentially dynamite... Because suddenly what I've always figured was crazy posturing about health efects of mobile phones and the like gains a quantum leap in credibility because biological effects of weak electromagnetic fields have been demonstrated... Whether that jump in credibility is enough to bring it out of the crazy posturing class into the "maybe we should consider this" category there's no way of knowing yet. So there's the IT angle...

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Useless research strikes again.

    Reads like the perfect entry for the Ignobel Awards

    Paris, cos she loves her udders

  20. Charles Manning

    Perhaps it is the sun....

    Satellite pics tend to be taken with sun high above and perhaps the cows prefer their faces or arses in the sun?

    Cows will put their arses into the wind when it is raining so that they don't get rain on their faces. Of course the clouds obscure that preventing it from showing up on GEarth.

    If it really is the magnetic fields then it should be easy to verify. The cows will feel the same magnetic fields as a pocket compass. Send in a troop of boy scouts and see if they point in the same direction as the cows. Alternatively the government research funds can stand a 5 quid Silva for this important research

  21. MinionZero
    Thumb Up

    The X-Files finally solved

    Basil Short_Trousers: "What about if you suspend one in mid-air or wrap it in tin foil?".

    In that case, you get a compass and a packed lunch.

    As for ... Mike Richards: "Are cows like fluorescent tubes. If you stick them under a high tension cable, do they light up?"

    That depends on how close you get them to the high tension cable, but that tends to apply to anything near a HT cable, including you. :)

    Maybe the cows magnetic alignment has been engineered by Alien Abductors, to make them easier to low fly skim a field, to pick them up more efficiently. In that case, if you suddenly feel compelled to face a given direction, it could be you are about to be abducted. The normal procedure would be to wear a tin foil hat, but I advise caution, as Basil Short_Trousers may think you are his packed lunch.

  22. adnim


    My missus faces any way she bloody well likes

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Jelly Babies

    Are made out of melted cows or something. Perhaps they can be used for navigation.

  24. Anonymous Coward


    The planes taking the aerial photos usually fly north/south. Just a thought...

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    It's a Rum Do...

    now where's the TinFoil,

    them Cyber Cows are buzzin for more....

  26. Charles Manning

    Anecdotal observations

    Further to my earlier posting...

    This morning I drove ~65km through rural NZ on the way to work. I went past approx 30 groups of cows, as well as numerous other ruminants (sheep -- duh, this is NZ -- and deer).

    In some fields, the animals were pretty random,

    In some fields they were predominantly north south.

    In some fields they were predominantly east west.

    Part of my journey was through a cool valley. The cows in the cooler areas with sun on them were predominantly north/south. That gave them the maximum body area exposed to the sun to warm up.

    Part of the journey was over plains with a warm breeze. The cows there were predominantly east west, reducing the amount of surface area exposed to the sun.

    Those in shady fields were the most random.

    Looks to me like the sun is a bigger factor than magnetics.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    @compass cow

    "Why do they align north-south?"

    - Clearly they are made of iron so align on the magnetic poles. (I assume we are talking Magnetic North and not True North?)

    "Does the head always face one way and the pat-producer the other?"

    - Well, obviously... otherwise that implies the cow has its head up its arse

    "Do they lie down when it rains?"

    - The old tradition says they lie down if it is /going to/ rain. Nothing about what happens when it is actually raining.

    "Do they really make shoes out of them?"

    - And the nice steak on my plate.

    "Are there red ones?"

    - Of course there are. See question one. This colour appears if you leave your cows out in the rain too long and they rust. OR if you take their skin off to make sure without making steak at the same time.

    "If not, why is the pub down the road named after one?"

    - Clearly a rusty Bull. Or is the barman wearing a pair of kinky leather boots?

    Honestly... the kinds of stupid questions that townies come out with.

  28. E


    Which one would make a female scientist blush:

    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

    Peptide nucleic acids

    polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons

    purine nucleoside analogues

    I just don't know.

  29. Anonymous Coward

    did anyone investigate

    the simplest explanation?

  30. Charles Manning


    Well we know that pigeons and some other birds navigate by magnetism using a little iron rich lump in their heads. Experiments have made RC pigeons by controlling coils around their heads.

  31. Pete

    Bernard I concur

    Also from NZ, they align to the sun for heat or cool, and usually point smelly end to extremes of wind.

    Mines the one with the velcro gloves in the pocket...

  32. Paul

    A scientific use for the ISS?

    Given a very strong magnet and a large enough herd will they arrange themselves like iron filings in a giant school science experiment?

  33. Scott Swarthout

    If this were done with hogs...

    Would we now be reading about "pig iron"?

  34. William Towle

    Re: did anyone investigate


    ...from which comes the beautifully rhythmic phrase "[...]4th bonivial meta-colon".

    If Colfer's continuation of HitchHiker's turns out to be a pile of the proverbial, then I know who *I* want doing the next one!!


  35. Anonymous Coward

    @Glenn Duggan

    "she loves her udders"

    Heck, I would too, given the chance!

    @AC - 20:56 GMT -

    Well, obviously... otherwise that implies the cow has its head up its arse

    So glad nothing in mouth to keep me from laughing...can't stop. thank you

  36. Stevie


    Years ago a friend who worked as a lineman told me that he used cows to find pylons with bad earths (grounds). If the grounding was suspect on a National Grid or Super Grid pylon, the voltage gradient across the field would actually be detectable (and presumably unpleasant) to the cattle. If a herd of cattle stood in proximity to a pylon but none actually faced it or faced away from it, that was - in his opinion - a likely candidate.

    I once asked him why the cows didn't simply move away from such pylons. He couldn't say.

    My theory? The deadly magnetic radiation from these electric death wires of lethal death had magnetised the cattle, causing them to be sucked in toward the steel pylon. This is why butchers have to use stainless steel tables and sinks: the steaks would stick to regular steel like huge, blood-soaked fridge magnets.

    I have a question: Why is it that the people who believe power lines give you brain cancer because of the EMR they emit are generally also those who believe Tesla was a genius who should have been allowed to deploy his radiative power distribution system?

    I don't dispute the genius part of course. Anyone who could invent AC and black out whole towns during his experiments gets that qualification in my book.

    Anyway, glad to see the register is getting back to the hard-hitting scientific reporting they do so well and laying off the boring computer stories that have clogged the site of late.

  37. Alan Potter
    Paris Hilton

    Your title can be read so many ways...

    Headline: "Boffins finger reason for non-aligned cows"

    And we have the story about the chap with a USB finger...

    And I'm not even going to go to "fingering" - I'm just sad that the following word was "reason" and not "Paris..."

  38. Don Sinclair

    Its not just bovines!

    Anyone who's been into Barnsley's famous 'trotters a-go-go' will note the random configurations displayed by the cows on the dance floor. I'm not usually prone to masogonistic diatribe, however if you have been there you will understand my sentiment

This topic is closed for new posts.