The internet got darn close to breaking this past week as a photo circulated of a dairy cow wearing an oversized VR headset. A Russian experiment was publicized that intended to to test if cow happiness and milk production could be improved by exposing cows that are kept in close quartered pens to wide open pastures in virtual reality. Seems legit.
It does actually seem like a legitimate experiment. The cows were apparently given modified VR headsets that fit their eye structure and milk quality and quantity is easily measured throughout the dairy industry, so testing to see if there was improvement seems like a reasonable thing to test. The farmers claim that the stress levels of the cows were reduced as a result of their time in VR and say they'll do further tests to track changes to milk production.
This probably fascinates anyone who works in the VR industry and is either encouraging or horrifying for those who consider themselves advocates of better farming practices. This essentially would be moving towards putting cows into "The Mootrix" where we basically have acknowledged that conditions are so depressing for cows that we have to create a virtual escape for them just to keep supplying milk products to the masses.
Special headsets that are specifically developed for Cows heads would need to be developed
How viable this could be on a massive scale seems daunting as well. There are over 264 million dairy cows worldwide. Currently worldwide sales of all headset manufacturers combined wouldn't tally anywhere near this number, and while there are currently 7.7 Billion humans on earth, there are 70 billion land animals on the planet reared for animal agriculture each year; so if mass adoption took place, the dairy industry along with other animal agriculture could become VR's biggest customer.
Understanding and implementing VR headsets that actually work with animals like cows, pigs and chickens is currently in development by others besides the Russian operation. While development of headsets may be practical and companies like MXTreality could certainly create the virtual experiences that would accomplish desired solutions, the upkeep of hundreds of headsets on a commercial farm would not be practical for most dairy operations of any size. Keep in mind, most commercial dairy farms have hundreds, or even thousands of cows, who often live in close quarters and well, things get messy.
All this being said, due to milk alternatives and growing consumer interest in reduced dairy consumption, some commercial dairy farmer collectives might be willing to try anything to ensure they're not beat out by a rapidly growing list of plant based milk startups and established food and beverage companies shifting focus to vegan alternatives.
There are actually certain stresses that can cause a cow to produce more milk, so mass adoption based on that alone could be unlikely. But if VR can indeed make cows feel less stress, is it possible that the average consumer would know or care if their milk came from a VR enabled farm. Would you pay more if that carton on the shelf said "Our Dairy Cows are VR Cows"?