October 10, 2008
Two German researchers, with obviously way too much time on their hands, have found that cows orient themselves so that their bodies are pointed north 66 percent of the time. The zoologists looked at the cattle in 8,510 photographs, jotted down which way they were facing and came to the conclusion that while both resting and grazing their bodies were situated on a north/south axis two thirds of the time. Thankfully, no beef checkoff dollars were wasted on this project.
Immediately a hue and cry went forth from the scientific community that not a single rancher or dairyman in the entire history of mankind had noticed this phenomenon before. Although, in their defense, the stockmen did have other “fields” to worry about, other than magnetic ones, that is.
One might expect German cows to recline on an “axis” but cows in the “allied” countries were also found to orient themselves in a similar manner. The photographs were of 308 herds scattered all around the globe and to drive home the point that the German zoologists weren’t the only scientists wasting their time, other lab-coated eggheads discovered similar results with red deer in the Czech Republic.
Some scientists have long theorized that many types of animals, like bats and whales for instance, have small amounts of magnetic substances in their brains which act as a magnet, thus giving them their very own on-board GPS. This helps explain how a family may leave behind a cow on their vacation to Yellowstone and a year later the cow will have found its way back home to New Jersey. Oh, wait a minute, that was a cat. Anyway, the scientists suspect that because cows and whales once shared a common ancestor that cows may also possess these magnetic particles. But instead of simply seeing if they could pick up a cow’s brain with a big horseshoe magnet the scientists decided to count cows in photos instead! I tend not to believe the magnet theory because I have never had a cow get stuck to the metal of a squeeze chute, nor have I noticed that cows are all that good at navigation, invariably failing to find the gate to my branding corrals.
Now, some people might think that such a study is as useless as feathers on a fish, a fifth leg on a cat or an appendix transplant. While it is true that no one has found a single practical application for this research, I can find many uses for the technology that the scientists used. The photographs that the zoologists studied were taken by Google Earth, a geographic browser that takes satellite photos of seemingly every place on earth. Unless you live way out in the boonies you can type in an address on the Internet, fly through the air from outer space to street level and then see a picture of your very own place. Immediately I got the great idea that instead of riding a horse or a four-wheeler to check on the cows or a bunch of calving heifers, a modern day rancher could just check them on his computer using Google Earth.
To test my theory I went on Google Earth to find my house and sure enough… there it was. My wife, who has never seen a camera she didn’t like, wanted her picture taken by Google Earth, so after primping for 30 minutes and donning a new dress she went out on the porch and waved at the satellites while I watched on my computer. The results were unspectacular. In fact, she didn’t even show up in all her radiant beauty. Then I noticed that a car we no longer owned was in the driveway and our house was a different color. All of which makes me question the work of the German scientists.
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Of course, just like every other research study ever conducted, more time and money will be required because the scientists could not tell from the photos if it was the cow’s heads facing north or their rear ends. I submit that you really have to question the work of any scientist who can’t tell one end of a cow from another.
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