Farming is widely thought of as an idyllic, pastoral venture: A man, a few simple machines, and the quiet glory of nature. In reality, it's a very technologically-driven field. Advances in agronomy and equipment have enabled us to produce more, with less, than ever before. In the continued pursuit of that goal, farmers in Russia are apparently now trying to improve the quantity and quality of their cows' milk output by fitting them with VR goggles.
We should acknowledge right from the start that these images could be fake, because, you know, obviously. Besides the whole cow wearing a VR headset thing, I'd levy some more suspicion at who carried out the research. It wasn't a university or accredited scientific institution, but Milknews.ru, a news site for the Russian dairy industry. It stinks a bit of publicity stunt. But the images also originated from mosreg.ru, the website for the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region, which at the very least looks official. Either way, we now have a photo of a cow wearing a VR headset. And besides, the press release accompanying the photo, run through Google Translate, actually makes a pretty reasonable case for the whole deal.
"In addition to physical needs, researchers began to pay more attention to the emotional state of animals. Examples of dairy farms from different countries show that in a calm atmosphere, the quantity, and sometimes the quality, of milk increases markedly," it says.
"American farmers install automatically rotating brushes in the stalls, which replace the masseur's cows. In Europe, they use robotic systems to ensure maximum free movement of livestock on the farm. In Russia, Moscow suburbs in particular, manufacturers install sound equipment for broadcasting classical music, the relaxing effect of which positively affects milk output."
The VR headsets aim to extend that effect by making cows think that they're in their happy place—specifically, a "unique summer field simulation." And apparently it's working, as the initial test found "a decrease in anxiety and an increase in the overall emotional mood of the herd." You might say it puts them in a better moooooood.
(You might also say that this is literally The Matrix for cows, but that puts kind of an unpleasant, dystopian spin on the whole thing, and anyway it's not like they've been making any great effort to rise up in revolution before now.)
The report says that another more comprehensive study will examine the actual impact of VR immersion on milk production on a larger scale. The broader impact of modern technologies on dairy production will also be discussed at the 6th International Agricultural Dairy Forum, which is now underway.