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Animal Behaviour Specialists Map Out the Social Networks of Cows

samzenpus posted about 4 months ago | from the udderly-fascinating dept.

Science 66

KentuckyFC writes In a classic The Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson, a group of cows stand on two legs chatting by the side of a road when a lookout shouts "car". The cows immediately drop to a four-legged stance as the car passes by and return to their usual position and continue chatting when it has gone. Now a team of animal behavior specialists have discovered that the social lives of cattle are more complex than biologists had ever imagined (although not quite into Larson territory). These guys attached RFID tags to 70 Holstein-Fresian calves kept in three pens. They then monitored the position of each cow for a week to see which other animals they tended to have contact with. This allowed them to construct the social network for the cows with unprecedented detail. It turns out these social networks have many of the properties of human social networks. Cows have preferred partners who they tend to spend more time with and 60 per cent of their contacts occur during feeding which amounts to only 6 per cent of their time. The work has important applications. It should help biologists more accurately model how disease spreads through herds of cattle and therefore better understand how to tackle epidemics.

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I'll look out (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47598869)

for my Mrs

I object. (5, Funny)

Joe Gillian (3683399) | about 4 months ago | (#47598879)

I object to the idea that humans are anything like cows. In fact, we're more like sheep, which are easier to herd, hairier, and generally taste worse than beef does.

Re:I object. (1)

ganjadude (952775) | about 4 months ago | (#47599095)

how do YOU know what humans taste like

Re:I object. (1)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | about 4 months ago | (#47599131)

Taste's like chicken, obviously.

Re:I object. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47599417)

Obviously you never ate human. Humans taste like baby lamb.

Re:I object. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47599601)

a lamb is already a "baby" by definition ;)

Re:I object. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47601551)

Actually, we taste like pig. It's why human flesh is referred to as "long pig" in certain parts of the world.

Re:I object. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47602329)

Taste's like chicken, obviously.

More like monkey, actually. And, no, I am not going to discuss how I know either of those things.

Re:I object. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47599345)

Lamb meat is awesome. You obviously never had any good lamb meat.
Humans? No idea... probably like shit or pork.

Re:I object. (3, Informative)

LoRdTAW (99712) | about 4 months ago | (#47599401)

" and generally taste worse than beef does."

Small sample:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/29/what-does-human-taste-like_n_5233724.html [huffingtonpost.com]
http://www.theguardian.com/science/the-lay-scientist/2010/sep/05/human-meat-taste-cannibal [theguardian.com]

So the general consensus is either pork or veal. Properly prepared pork is very tasty but I would say that beef can beat it out depending on the cut. Especially the tender and fatty skirt steak, better than filet mignon IMHO. Diet, gender, age and lifestyle could also affect taste. Perhaps a young fit female vegan would be the tastiest while an overweight 50y/o male alcoholic smoker would taste awful.

Re:I object. (1)

phorm (591458) | about 4 months ago | (#47608015)

+1 information
-1 Too much information...

Re:I object. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47602953)

I don't know about you but I think lamb tastes much nicer than beef. Don't get me wrong, I love a good steak, but I'd kill for a lamb shank.

Facemoooo (3, Funny)

rodrigoandrade (713371) | about 4 months ago | (#47598897)

I see an IPO on the horizon..

Animals have feelings and intelligence shocker... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47598917)

... well, it is a shock to the Slashdot sociopaths, isn't it.

How can any animal species survive, if animal parents don't care more about their offsprings' survival more than anything else, and will risk their lives to save them, and work constantly to find food and shelter for them? Yet somehow, the Slashdot sociopaths believe that animals have no emotional feelings (or that they don't matter), because they can't talk. Babies can't talk either - do you think they have emotional feelings?

The abuse and suffering of animals in the farming industry (among others) is horrific and indefensible. So-called 'intelligent' Slashdotters insist that "humans are supposed to eat meat", yet when confronted with simple scientific questions about this, they immediately become irrational and will do anything to avoid having to admit they have been wrong their entire lives.

Re: Animals have feelings and intelligence shocker (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47599033)

I'll feed the troll. I may not posses a 4 digit UID but I've been around there parts of over 10 years, and I have never seen an overwhelming majority of people support any form of animal abuse. Eating animals? Sure. But supporting inhumane treatment of animals? Not so much. There will always be a few, but it's never been a majority from what I've seen. I guess you could be considering eating animals inhumane, if that's the case, that explains the so called irrationality you seem to be faced with.

Re:Animals have feelings and intelligence shocker. (4, Informative)

king neckbeard (1801738) | about 4 months ago | (#47599083)

How can any animal species survive, if animal parents don't care more about their offsprings' survival more than anything else, and will risk their lives to save them, and work constantly to find food and shelter for them?

I realize that this is likely a rhetorical question, but the answer would be to have a lot of offspring. Typically, the higher the cost to have offspring, the more care will be given to said offspring.

Also, I don't see what the connection is between emotions and eating meat. Sentience doesn't magically make something taste bad. Adult humans allegedly taste more or less like pork.

Re:Animals have feelings and intelligence shocker. (3, Interesting)

Jason Levine (196982) | about 4 months ago | (#47599207)

How can any animal species survive, if animal parents don't care more about their offsprings' survival more than anything else, and will risk their lives to save them, and work constantly to find food and shelter for them?

Not all animal species care for their young. Some species of sea turtles, for example, bury their eggs and then leave. The eggs hatch, the turtles crawl to the sea, and begin their life. The parents aren't around at all. Thanks to our species' typical behavior (parents raising their children) we can sometimes think this is the only way it can be, but there are many different parenting models in the animal kingdom.

Re:Animals have feelings and intelligence shocker. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47599833)

In addition to what everyone else has sad, animal parents often don't risk their lives to save their young. If there is a food shortage, they will let them starve to death. The parent can always have more offspring, but the offspring can't take care of themselves.

Old news (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47598933)

Coming from a ranching family, this is old news. In those circles, its common knowledge that cows have 'buddies' who they spend most of their time with. It actually becomes useful to the rancher to be aware of such things. First, most cattle are tagged with an ear tag with a number to aid in logging sickness, vaccinations, pregnancy etc. Now, because cattle have "Friends" My dad has pointed out times where he realized that when he saw cow #1, it was always with cow #2. If he saw either cow #2 or cow #1 alone, it was a likely indicator that something was wrong with the other cow, as it was unable to keep up with its friend. Things like this have been understood and useful to the people who deal with livestock, probably since the dawn if domestication.

Re:Old news (2, Interesting)

jasenj1 (575309) | about 4 months ago | (#47599559)

I visited a milking ranch once and the rancher told me the cows tend to line up to be milked in a regular order. There is a hierarchy in the herd and the lower status cows get the back of the line. A change in the order indicates something is up

It's amazing to me how "scientists" often know very little about the things they are studying. Ask someone who actually WORKS in the field and they can tell the scientists all sorts of information. The scientists may still be useful to measure and quantify the common knowledge, but it is hardly a new discovery.

Re:Old news (5, Insightful)

Brian Nelson (3610471) | about 4 months ago | (#47600343)

When you put "scientists" in quotes, is it because you're claiming they're not really scientists? Science is meant to test the natural world, often to find out if our assumptions are valid. Re-validating what is already known is actually useful science, though not always as useful as new discoveries.

If you "Ask someone who actually WORKS in the field" and you'll find all kinds of urban myths and wrong assumptions that come along with real actual useful information. Science helps distinguish between the two in a meaningful way. The sensationalism of most news articles about science being done is usually just the news media and not the scientists doing the work making these statements.

So please, don't go around bashing scientists and science just because someone knew something before someone tested a claim.

Re:Old news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47600959)

Simply a post to undo the incorrect moderation (was supposed to be Insightful, got Redundant in the menu) that was put on this post by me. Is there any other way of undoing a moderation?

Re:Old news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47600347)

As I'm sure you and the GP know...there is a difference between anecdotal evidence and empirical evidence...at least, one would hope.

Re:Old news (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47600379)

Dude, some JOURNALIST claims that scientists never expected this complexity. You should not be amazed at scientists' lack of knowledge because a JOURNALIST exhibits lack of knowledge, and hypes a result. I've been an academic biologist for a long time. This is not news to me or my colleagues. It's hype for the people like you that get their science from a blog, not a journal. Take a look at the abstract for the journal article. There are no such idiotic claims. Please don't slam scientists because journalists say something unscientific.

Re:Old news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47602791)

They're just doing their jobs. Their job is to entertain the public and make science sound exciting. But most science is only exciting to scientists, so they have to set up some strawman about supposed scientific "myths" that have now been "debunked" to make a scientific result palatable to the masses. I wonder how much of the narrative of revolutions and paradigm shifts has been created by the entertainment industry, not the actual scientists involved. An extreme example is nutrition, because it's such a huge market, and overweight people are so (pun intended) gullible.

Re:Old news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47607259)

On CNN maybe, but on the arXiv blog, I'd think it's mostly scientists. They're probably reading outside their field of expertise, but most shouldn't be attracted by the usual pseudoscientific shiny objects. Nutrition is a whole different story. Nobody knows what they're doing, scientists or otherwise, aside from the general observation that too much / not enough of some things will kill us, and eating whole foods is good. Even then, the advice to eat whole foods is really only propagated by a minority, and tends to get drowned out by large agribusiness and pharma. The obese are indeed gullible, but their parasitic tricksters populate both the conventional and alternative medical fields.

Re:Old news (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47600885)

Scientists would never be socializing with the common working man.

And the working man is likely to punch them for being too smart and snotty.

Re:Old news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47601019)

This site is good for scientists because many of us are interested in nerd stuff. Some of us are also large men who like to fight. Bring it on, underpants.

Re:Old news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47601039)

while i don't disagree (the recent 'discovery' /story that dogs get jealous was a real revelation to anyone who had ever spent more than 5 minutes around dogs... /sarc), it can be useful to verify and quantify these types of otherwise 'common sense' observations...

so, now we have to find out if cow buddies get jealous of other cow buddies...

Re:Old news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47601927)

If the cows are like horses, the first thing to do is find out if they're even paying attention. Current Biology has us covered this week with their article "The eyes and ears are visual indicators of attention in domestic horses"

Re:Old news (4, Insightful)

McFly777 (23881) | about 4 months ago | (#47602551)

It's amazing to me how "scientists" often know very little about the things they are studying. Ask someone who actually WORKS in the field and they can tell the scientists all sorts of information. The scientists may still be useful to measure and quantify the common knowledge, but it is hardly a new discovery.

From a engineering test background (vs. a pure experimental science backgorund), sometimes it is better not to know too much about the topic which you are about to test, that way you don't bias the results. Or if you might know too much, then you get someone else (your intern?) to actually perform the test.

There is also the aspect of having documentatable proof of what was previously just an anecdotal statement. So the scientist may have talked to a farm/ranch worker. In fact that may be how the researcher got the idea to study in the first place. The "discovery" is really just that this is now a provable statement of fact.

Re:Old news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47600433)

And now these observations have been quantified and compared to humans. That's the news. Yes, the result was not overly surprising or unexpected, but that does not make it old news.

Re:Old news (1)

Richard Kirk (535523) | about 4 months ago | (#47605829)

The article is fine except for this mad bit of hype...

"Now a team of animal behavior specialists have discovered that the social lives of cattle are more complex than biologists had ever imagined..."

This last bit is clearly quite silly: they could imagine that cattle had complex social lives, because they designed an experiment to try and measure the social groupings. They seem to have done a number of sensible things, such as attempting to remove events where cow #1 was close to cow #2 because they were both going for food, or one had to get past the other anyway, or things like that.

Researches reveal amazing facts about cows! The paper that Farmers don't want you to read! Identify cattle with this one weird old tip! You will not believe what cows do when you are not looking!

It could be worse, I guess...

The cow clicker guy was on to something. (2)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 4 months ago | (#47598963)

So this is the next frontier in social networking? Farmville is so human, the next killer app is cow clicker. [wikipedia.org]

Cow Clicker is dead. Long live Cookie Clicker. (1)

tepples (727027) | about 4 months ago | (#47600047)

Cow Clicker is dead. Let's get the milk and the butter, make chocolate and dough, and play Cookie Clicker [dashnet.org] .

The short version (3, Insightful)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | about 4 months ago | (#47598965)

Cows have best friends.

Re:The short version (1)

thieh (3654731) | about 4 months ago | (#47599023)

So when are we having Larson-ish cows?

Re:The short version (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47599905)

BBF = Best Bovine Friend

Why Biology != Science (-1, Flamebait)

fygment (444210) | about 4 months ago | (#47599001)

Wow, herding animals have a social network. Really, that should not be surprise but kudos to the researchers for actually studying it. But biology is repeatedly surprised by this sort of thing to the point that one is inclined to think that is biology tells you it isn't so, then it is likely just so eg.- "No life could exist in such an environment." => Life could exist in such an environment.

Biologists = butterfly collectors

moo (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 4 months ago | (#47599019)

Moo, moo, moooo *snort* mooo!
My cow friend just wanted to weigh in on this article as well. He finds the finding unsurprising and obvious.

Coke snorting yuppie cows! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47599135)

Coke snorting yuppie cows!

Do cows in South America eat coca leaves? Or is it a natural taste they love, like cats and tuna?

Wrong (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | about 4 months ago | (#47599057)

Human social networks have characteristics of bovine social networks.
Although my first guess would have been sheep rather than cattle.

Re:Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47599085)

Although my first guess would have been sheep rather than cattle.

A quick stop over in any Cube Farm will clearly show we're closer to the prairie dog than sheep or cattle.

medium.com unreadable links (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47599093)

How I have missed thee.

Cow media (1)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about 4 months ago | (#47599155)

Look out...Here comes Zuckercud pitching his cowbook idea again!

As an old farmboy, all I can say is... (0)

bobbied (2522392) | about 4 months ago | (#47599205)

Oh bull..... Why do you need a GPS collar to figure this out?

If you've ever spent any time with a head of cows, this would be pretty obvious. Why it takes a study with GPS tags to determine individual bovines have an affinity for specific other individual ones is beyond me. When we ran the dairy operation, it was pretty obvious to me. Individuals would show up in the milking barn in a pretty consistent order and it seemed to me that they had small groups within the larger group. When we where running beef cows, just watching them graze and seeing where they ended up chewing their cud in the hot afternoons or how they bedded down at night would show this too.

So, why you go though all the trouble to fit cows with GPS and then log their every move is beyond me. Just ask you average group of cattlemen for their observations and I'll bet you can figure it out.

Re:As an old farmboy, all I can say is... (4, Interesting)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 4 months ago | (#47599537)

If you've ever spent any time with a head of cows, this would be pretty obvious.

They are countless examples of "pretty obvious" things that turned out not to be true.

Your experience, for example, could be down to confirmation bias [wikipedia.org] , for all any outsider might know.

Re:As an old farmboy, all I can say is... (3, Informative)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 4 months ago | (#47599571)

Also quantifying said obvious thing can make it much more useful.

Re:As an old farmboy, all I can say is... (0)

bobbied (2522392) | about 4 months ago | (#47599733)

If you've ever spent any time with a head of cows, this would be pretty obvious.

They are countless examples of "pretty obvious" things that turned out not to be true.

Your experience, for example, could be down to confirmation bias [wikipedia.org] , for all any outsider might know.

Which is why I suggest you question a number of people who are experienced with cattle and not take my word for it. If you are careful about how you ask your questions, I'm sure you can avoid any problems with confirmation bias...

Re:As an old farmboy, all I can say is... (3)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 4 months ago | (#47600659)

Which is why I suggest you question a number of people who are experienced with cattle and not take my word for it.

Then I'm just taking x number of peoples' words for it instead of just one.

If you are careful about how you ask your questions, I'm sure you can avoid any problems with confirmation bias...

That sounds harder - and is certainly more subjective - than tagging up 70 cows and crunching the numbers with a computer.

"60 per cent of their contacts occur during feeding which amounts to only 6 per cent of their time."

I'm not sure you'd have got very close to uncovering those numbers no matter how many careful questions you asked of how many farmers.

Re:As an old farmboy, all I can say is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47601463)

Silly ranchers. What would generations of you who watch cattle at all hours of the day and night for decades know about cattle anyway? Only STEM degrees and the internet of things can provide answers!

Re:As an old farmboy, all I can say is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47602447)

Indeed, some 'obvious' things are true, some are not. It's useful to have real results from reproducible data to prove which are which, and to what extent in a quantifiable way.

People might ask "Why are scientists wasting their time on cow socialisation". The answer is probably working out how to make cows happier (not via MooBook or something!) and less prone to illness to improve milking yields. Which either means more, cheaper milk, or maybe less need to keep cows and more wildnerness. Or just happier cows.

Re:As an old farmboy, all I can say is... (1)

wcrowe (94389) | about 4 months ago | (#47600281)

I agree. Almost any farmer or rancher can attest to this behavior. My uncle was a farmer who raised cattle, and I spent a great deal of time at the farm with my cousin who was the same age. My uncle would typically have about 60-70 head at any given time and he pretty well know each one as an individual. Their behavior, such as who they "hung out" with, and so on, would give him clues to how they were faring; such as if an individual was sick, pregnant, or in some kind of distress.

Nevertheless, I understand the need for scientists to want to get real numbers on this sort of thing for the sake of understanding behavior better. It's just that articles read like this is new and surprising information.

Re:As an old farmboy, all I can say is... (1)

CAPSLOCK2000 (27149) | about 4 months ago | (#47600767)

[quote]
Oh bull..... Why do you need a GPS collar to figure this out?
[/quote]
To turn common knowledge into science.
I assume the scientists new about this behaviour before they started their work. Now other scientists can use this work as a basis for more advanced research, for example detecting if cows are happy by monitoring their social behaviour. Farmers already use this technique, but by turning it into science you might be able to compare the happiness of cows in different situations, at different times or on farms across the globe. One might even teach a computer to use this knowledge.

Re:As an old farmboy, all I can say is... (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 4 months ago | (#47601205)

Why do you need a GPS collar to figure this out?

Did you physically watch your cows w/o interruption 24/7? Obvious by simple observation is incomplete information. An actual study need more.

Re:As an old farmboy, all I can say is... (1)

penguinoid (724646) | about 4 months ago | (#47602323)

Oh bull..... Why do you need a GPS collar to figure this out?

You don't need the tracking system to figure it out... you need it to measure how much time they spend together, whether besides having a buddy they also form groups, how often they interact with their group or with random cows, etc. With these numbers they can model the spread of various diseases, how cow health changes their interactions, how feeding system changes cow socialization (that will need a similar study with a different feeding system), and perhaps other things. Also they can verify that it wasn't a confirmation bias "discovery".

here's what I want to know... (2)

spywhere (824072) | about 4 months ago | (#47599487)

How do they know when it's going to rain?
They always lie down before it rains... are the cows hooked in to NOAA? Or, is that where AccuWeather gets that "probability of precipitation" number?

What I wanna know... (2)

jddj (1085169) | about 4 months ago | (#47599511)

...is what the ad revenue looks like on RuminantBook.

A vegan perspective.. (1)

Vegan Cyclist (1650427) | about 4 months ago | (#47600511)

"It should help biologists more accurately model how disease spreads through herds of cattle and therefore better understand how to tackle epidemics."

For me, it would be 'it should give people second thought on what we're doing to our fellow earthlings'.

Re:A vegan perspective.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47600705)

Vegans would make domestic cattle extinct. Is that better?

And in related news, a study using animals might have found an effective vaccine for a disease the kills ~30,000 in the US every year [sciencedaily.com] . Think about that; 30,000 people every year. But I suppose you would prefer that medical research doesn't have breakthroughs like that since it involved testing on animals - better to just let those tens of thousands of people die a painful death.

Re:A vegan perspective.. (1)

Kingofearth (845396) | about 4 months ago | (#47602627)

Vegans would make domestic cattle extinct. Is that better?

How is that worse? Are entire species collectively sentient and able to suffer from their own extinction even if all the individuals die peaceful natural deaths and simply have no offspring to continue the species?

Cow privacy (1)

CAPSLOCK2000 (27149) | about 4 months ago | (#47600785)

How about privacy? If cows are social beings, shouldn't they have privacy? Do we need a Snowden to make the cows aware of the extensive monitoring they are subjected to?

Re: Cow privacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47601219)

I would imagine the giant orange gps tags on their ears would give some of the bovine conspiracy theorists a field day.

(Both the human kind and the cow kind of bovine conspiracy theorist.)

Well, of course. (2)

Animats (122034) | about 4 months ago | (#47600977)

It's not surprising that herds of cows have a social structure. They're herd animals. It may be hard to see in a feeding pen situation without this kind of tracking, but when they have a lot of room to move around, groups form. It's a bit harder to see this in a group of uniformly bred dairy cattle, though.

Horse herd social structure is well understood. There are buddies, little groups, and an overall hierarchy. If you want to see the hierarchy, set out food buckets, one at a time, and see who eats first. The order will usually be the same each time you do this.

Even chickens have a "pecking order".

Dumb Grant Money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47602989)

The only part of this that is surprising is that the scientists are able to waste grant money on this. No, I shouldn't be surprised because a lot of the things they waste researching they could have just asked. We farmers are well aware of much of what seems to surprise the scientists. I would suggest it is time to get more of those researchers out of their ivory towers and put them back to work doing real labor in the fields producing real food.

"with centimeter resolution" ?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47603893)

Bullshit (no pun) The ISO 11784/5 animal tags do NOT allow for centimeter resolution. They're lucky to get a meter resolution.

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