In the quest to make livestock living conditions better while ramping up dairy and meat production for an ever-growing human population (a questionable endeavor), scientists are making use of some creative tactics. Among them: a social network for cows.
A three-year project led by researchers at the University of Exeter in the U.K. will examine how cows’ relationships with each other affect their health and welfare. This isn’t just about making the cows happy; a healthier cow will produce more milk.
"Emerging evidence on wild animal populations supports the idea that the group structure and relationships between the animals affect their health and wellbeing. Cows are social animals that form important group structures, and the addition or removal of animals from an established group can significantly alter its dynamics," explained study leader Dr. Darren Croft in an interview with the Daily Mail.
As part of the project, cows on Orway Porch Farm in the U.K’s Devon County are being outfitted with "proximity collars" that let the researchers detect how far they are from one another using radio signals. By combining this data with information on the cows’ health and welfare, scientists should be able to see what kinds of social interactions make for a healthy, happy animal.
In later phases of the project, the University of Exeter researchers will bring the proximity collars to other farms in the U.K. Results should be available by 2015. And if nothing useful comes of the study, there’s always techno-factory farming.