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Why Do Cows All Face the Same Direction When Eating?

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Animals have some unique behaviors, but perhaps none more so than cows. Cows have a behavior that science has yet to explain. According to German researchers, cows have a tendency of facing north or south when grazing or resting. A study of satellite images of more than 8,000 cows showed that cows face the same direction when eating.

Magnetic Field

Science has yet to identify the cause of this unique behavior, but the German scientists have come up with a theory. Since it is known that bees, bird and fish use the magnetic field of the Earth to orientate themselves, the scientists theorize that cows use the Earth's magnetism also. No known studies have evaluated the reasons for this unique behavior, but the researchers believe it is an area to study in the future.

Wind and Light

The observations showed that wind and light do not play a role in the cows’ eating and resting behavior. Studies have shown that cows face into the wind when the breeze is blowing hard. The cows also have a tendency of standing perpendicular to the sun when the weather is colder so their bodies can receive more sunlight and heat. The researchers determined that neither one of the behaviors made a difference when the cows grazed or rested. The cows continued to face the same north-south direction during these two actions.

Satellite Images

The German researchers spent a lot of time reviewing satellite images before publishing their theory about this behavior. Reviews of multiple photographs of cows across the globe during the same time of year eliminated the wind, light and temperature causes. The photographs all showed cows standing in the same direction all over the world during the same time of day. Cows from the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia were all photographed by satellite during the same time, and they all faced in a north-south direction when eating.

Magnetic Strengths

According to the German study, the photos were also taken of cows located in areas of the world that had less magnetic-north strength. By comparing photos of cows located within areas of the world that had a strong magnetic-north field, the researchers came up with the theory on why cows face in the same direction. The images showed that cows in lower magnetic-north fields still faced the same way as cows in stronger magnetic-north fields. The magnetic strength differences, according to researchers, showed that even if the magnetic field was low, the cows continued to face in the same direction.


Mitchell Brock has been writing since 1980. His work includes media relations and copywriting technical manuals for Johnson & Johnson, HSBC, FOX and Phillip Morris. Brock graduated from the University of Southern California in 1980, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English.