In response to the increasing number of observational studies on an apparent south-north orientation in non-homing, non-migrating terrestrial mammals, we experimentally tested the alignment hypothesis using strong neodymium magnets on the resting orientation of individual cattle in Portugal. Contrary to the hypothesis, the 34 cows in the experiment showed no directional preference, neither with, nor without a strong neodymium magnet fixed to their collar. The concurrently performed 2,428 daytime observations–excluding the hottest part of the day–of 659 resting individual cattle did not show a south-north alignment when at rest either. The preferred compass orientation of these cows was on average 130 degrees from the magnetic north (i.e., south east). Cow compass orientation correlated significantly with sun direction, but not with wind direction. In as far as we can determine, this is the first experimental test on magnetic orientation in larger, non-homing, non-migrating mammals. These experimental and observational findings do not support previously published suggestions on the magnetic south-north alignment in these mammals.
Weijers, D., Hemerik, L., & Heitkönig, I. M. A. (2018). An experimental approach in revisiting the magnetic orientation of cattle. PLoS ONE, 13(4), [e0187848]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0187848