From the physics arXive blog:
Thinking about cows as simple coupled oscillators leads to a model that predicts how they stand up or lie down in synchrony
Many creatures demonstrate various kinds of collective behaviour: birds flock, fish shoal, cattle herd and even humans collaborate from time to time.
Determining the dynamics of this kind of behaviour is a hot problem that has lead to a number of fundamental discoveries in recent years. Who would have imagined that bacterial colonies cooperate when they grow, that shoals of fish can make collective decisions and that an insect swarm can act seemingly as one? And yet the mathematics that describe these systems demonstrate how easily this kind of behaviour can emerge.
Today, the mathematics of animal synchrony takes a cloven-footed step forward with the unveiling of a model that describes the collective behaviour of cows.
Cows are well know for their collective behaviour: they tend to either all lie down or all stand up for example. Jie Sun at Clarkson University in New York state and colleagues say that this behaviour can be modelled by thinking of cows as simple oscillators: they either stand or lie and do this in cycles. These oscillators are also coupled: one form of coupling may be that a cow is more likely to lie down if those around it are lying down and vice versa.
The result is a mathematical model in which the collective behaviour of cows can be studied in abstract.
That may turn out to be more useful than it sounds. Happy cows tend to copy each other. And happy cows are also more productive by various measures such as the amount of milk they produce. Some researchers have even proposed that synchrony be used as a measure of the quality of bovine life....MORE