Through the looking glass: Last week, a news outlet in Turkey reported on a farmer trying to use VR headsets to decrease anxiety in his cows and increase milk production. The method was inspired by what Russian farmers started doing a few years ago.

State-run Anadolu Agency reports that İzzet Koçak tried fitting VR headsets on two of his cows. Koçak ran a simulation of a summer field while playing classical music for the cows to take their minds off of being densely packed together in a barn.

To make the human-sized headsets fit onto the cows, Koçak used one on each eye. After about 10 days, they gave more and better milk. One went from 22 liters to 27 liters of milk.

The idea came from farmers in Moscow who, in 2019, ran a similar test. The Moscow farmers cooperated with VR developers to make headsets uniquely designed to fit the cows and field simulations developed to accommodate cow vision, which is different from how humans see.

Koçak plans to move his experiment to a trial phase by ordering enough Moscow headsets for 10 cows. If that works, he plans to use VR on all his cows.

On the one hand, this can improve the mental well-being of farm animals—studies have shown their emotional state can affect their health and milk production. On the other hand, it could just be a Band-Aid on top of the larger problem of how those animals are treated in factory farms.

It recalls the 2012 UK proposal to raise unconscious chickens that are unaware of being raised in densely-packed warehouses. One could also draw similarities between cow VR simulations and the plot of the Matrix films in which humans are kept in a simulated world so machines can harvest their body heat.