Cow pedometer experiment recognised

An experiment that fitted cows with pedometers to monitor their behaviour has won an international science award.

11a38648-1c71-11e3-8cf5-0a0c0223000020130917T102245
An experiment which tracked the movement of cows to assess their behaviour has been awarded a 'Nobel prize'

An experiment that fitted cows with pedometers to monitor their behaviour has won an international science award.

The team from Scotland's Rural College wanted to find out if the length of time cows spend lying down and standing up affects their health or happiness.

Pedometers recorded the movements of a group of cows in farms in Dumfries and Edinburgh.

The project won the Ig Nobel prize which recognises attempts to get more people interested in science and technology.

Judges at the award ceremony, now in its 23rd year and is a light-hearted version of the Nobel prize, look for research that "first makes people laugh and then makes them think".

By tracking beef and dairy cows' activity, the researchers analysed patterns in the time they spent lying and standing, with the theory that changes to these patterns could indicate a cow is ill or unhappy.

The team expected to find that as the cows became increasingly tired due to standing, they would become more likely to lie down. But they found that cows standing for six hours are just as likely to lie down as cows standing for only one hour.

While the reasons for the variation is unclear, the methodology of the experiment was praised and will now be used to assess the behaviour of larger groups of cows.

The research was led by Dr Bert Tolkamp who collected the award at Harvard University in Massachusetts, US.

He said: "Anything that promotes interest in science is very welcome and we hope that winning the prize will give us additional opportunities to explain to other scientists, funding bodies and the public what we are doing and why it is worthwhile.

"As farms get bigger, there is less and less direct contact between farm workers and animals, which might mean later detection of problems.

"By shedding light on cow behaviour as an indicator of potential problems, our research is providing new opportunities to protect and improve cattle health and welfare."