The Last Thing in the World I Would Ever Think Google Earth Would Be Used For

It seems that cattle and deer tend to graze while standing in a north-south direction. No one had ever noticed this until some researchers used Google Earth to study the question.

The researchers think it has something to do with Earth’s magnetic field.

(Hat tip: Spectre)

Bobby G

Is this really the *last* thing you think Google Earth could be used for?


it's not really on topic, but another interesting Google Earth use is when Iraqis use it to point out locations of IEDs to US troops. just thought that that was interesting. opossums take 12 days to gestate, elephants take 18 months. like that.


Re: #31

More people will starve this year because some politians* in corn-growing states voted for subsidies for US farmers to grow corn for use in the production of ethanol. Corn acreage increased at the expense of wheat acreage, causing the price of wheat, and everything made from wheat, to skyrocket. The large pizza I bought for $10.00 last year was $15.09 tonight. Those most in need around the world have seen a loaf of bread nearly double in some parts of the world.

The US corn farmers are finally making a bundle, but they continue to accept, subsides, from our government.

* That's right - it's Obama.


@7: No, that's not likely at all. Cows wouldn't point North *always* because the wind is *usually* from the West. They would just point a certain direction in relation to the wind as it is right then.

The article I read about this cited that cows and deer both tend to point N when grazing but the sense of direction is even stronger in deer. The reason is that cows are no longer migratory, they are now fenced in. But the sense of "N" evolved back when they migrated just like deer do.


Could also be the way the grass grows for easy grazing. Any golfer or person who works with grass will tell you it leans certain ways due to the sun and other environmental factors.

Could also have no other explanation other than random genetics. Maybe there's a gene for facing N/S and this happens to be dominant in cows the same way more people tend to be right handed.


The ones at the dairies by my house stand on 14 foot high piles of manure when it rains. Who cares how or where cows stand, as long as it's not on your foot?


I always thought that they did this to best position themselves to catch the scent of predators on the wind, which tends to move west-east.


So, that means if you put a grazing cow on the hood of your car, you could save some money on a GPS satellite location system. Sounds like pretty interesting economic advice. Now if I can just figure out how to glue the thing to my hood....


This is a silly point.

Cattle will either mostly point north-south or east-west. This is based on the assumption that you give general directions the title north-south or east-west, even if they aren't spot on.

If it were observed on Google Earth that Cattle pointed mostly East-West you could say that they tend to point into or away from prevailing winds or stand perpendicular to the magnetic poles or some other such nonsense.

This is an example of random behaviour in search of an explanation.


Feh. They face north-south so that one whole side of their body is warmed by the sun.

@13--I guess every thought, endeavor, action or process on the planet needs to stop until every kid on earth is overfed, has a Ph.D, has access to all the free medical care we can summon and no longer has to worry about the rapid, one-inch per century rise of the oceans.

Context, my friend, context. Every argument in the right place, at the right time.


I'm guessing it's because of the sun and not wanting to stare into it. Probably looking for the most exposure to warm themselves also.


The real question is which way would they swim?


They said something about that on cartoon network the other day...I wonder if knowing that puts me in a special nerd category?


@ #13: Surely with the billions of people on earth at least SOME of them can dedicate their lives to deepening human understanding.

Plus, while it seems like this observational study might be mostly just science saying "oh hey look at that. Well that's neat" while farmers say "tell us something we don't know," it's easy to see how information like this could lead to a greater understanding of herd habits, which could make tracking and farming easier over time. Thus, this research (and research like it) could eventually lead to better hunting and farming practices. Such practices generally increase yield, which means more food available.

Not to mention the first researcher quoted in the BBC article linked here is a woman.

Michael F. Martin

I'm with Greg on this one. It's the sun. I don't think that northern slopes are greener in the northern hemisphere and drier in the southern hemisphere because of magnetic fields.


I think this observation needs a whole lot more study. I'm a private pilot and something that I've noticed is that cattle tend to walk into the wind, something rarely ever blows N-S, at least in the Southeast US.


I agree with the direction of the sun; its the same reason why most football stadiums face north south as well.


To add to the category of "things I never would have expected ..." I just used Google Maps (and the Street View) feature to figure out whether there was free street parking near a hotel where I'll be staying. The hotel charges $22 a night for parking (enough to tip the balance away from a rental car), but a quick look at the street showed that there was lots of parking nearby without meters. Of course, if they added time-lapse shots, I might be able to tell whether there are late-night restrictions (couldn't read the signs) or even how hard it is to find a spot.


I was intrigued by the title of your column "The Last Thing In The World I Would Ever Think Goggle Earth Would Ever Be Used For" I'm planning on going to a Google Earth workshop this weekend.



What is so wrong with what you sarcastically posted? Are those people in the world who are staring supposed to gain solace knowing that billions of trillions of dollars was spend to send tiny particles of matter crashing into each other somewhere in France? I think not. There is value in increasing our knowledge of the world, but when it is seemingly superfluous and demands resource that could more immediately benefit the human condition, it seems flawed. Yes, some discoveries will ultimately improve the human condition overall longterm, but that does not justify the exploitation or neglience of individual humans today, especially those most in need and most disenfrachised.