Chris Blattman

I graze in a northerly direction

Cattle (J Cerveny)

Images from Google Earth have confirmed that cattle tend to align their bodies in a north-south direction.

Wild deer also display this behaviour – a phenomenon that has apparently gone unnoticed by herdsmen and hunters for thousands of years.

In the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, scientists say the Earth’s magnetic fields may influence the behaviour of these animals.

The Earth can be viewed as a huge magnet, with magnetic north and south situated close to the geographical poles.

Maybe the grass just tastes better that way.

Full article in the BBC. Via Freakonomics.

6 Responses

  1. Who knows whether herdsmen or hunters have noticed this phenomenone? Not me. Do you? It could be common knowledge among tribal herdspeople the world ’round.

    G Razer

  2. I spoke to a helicopter pilot(Indian Army)today. He said that their instruction for wind direction was to watch for cows’ behinds in case of difficulty; they are supposed to be towards the wind.

  3. perhaps it may because of the way in which the grass grows? If grass blades are more likely to be horizontal when viewing them from a northwest orientation (quite possibly to maximise sun light exposure) then it may be easier for cows to eat it given the structure of the teeth.

  4. In the photograph most of them seem to be facing the sun which means that the orientation is not north-south. May be I am reading the picture wrong.

  5. “Their study ruled out the possibility that the Sun position or wind direction were major influences on the orientation of the cattle.”
    I don’t know about this. All the sample photographs would have been taken on sunny, clear Google-Earth days; otherwise it’d have been impossible to make out the cattle. The researchers are quoted saying as much in the article. When the sun is casting a shadow, it’s going to be at the East or West. Cattle are probably more comfortable with their flanks facing the sun than with their front- or backsides.
    “In Africa and South America, the cattle (were) shifted slightly to a more north-eastern-south-western direction.”
    If my spatial sense is right, this is how you’d orient yourself in the southern-hemisphere winter in order to expose your flank to as much sunlight as possible.

    Just my Internet 2 cents,

  6. I love tidbits of information that seem small but stretch our overall understanding of what all goes unseen (or unnoticed)… And I notice this article was found via freakenomics (you have to love those guys).

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