Azara Blog: Herds of grazing animals allegedly all face the same way

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Date published: 2008/08/26

The BBC says:

Have you ever noticed that herds of grazing animals all face the same way?

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 researchers surveyed Google Earth images of 8,510 grazing and resting cattle in 308 pasture plains across the globe.

"Sometimes it took hours and hours to find some pictures with good resolution," said Dr Begall.

The scientists were unable to distinguish between the head and rear of the cattle, but could tell that the animals tended to face either north or south.

This sounds like a bit of an April Fool's joke. Why bother spending "hours and hours" poring over the pretty crap resolution of Google Earth when you can actually go and visit grazing animals and see what they do close up? These scientists need to get out a bit more. In any case, a quick observation today of a cow herd in Cambridge (on the field at the end of Cranmer Road) shows that cows seem to eat perfectly happily in all directions, but with this particular sample biased towards east-west, not north-south:
Cows eating in Cambridge
(The direction of the photo is looking northwards.) Mind you, most of the cows are sitting, but of the two that are standing, one is facing west and the other east. Perhaps this is why this alleged phenomenon "has apparently gone unnoticed by herdsmen and hunters for thousands of years".

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