Cow sense — it’s a concept one often gleans either growing up on a farm or working on a farm. This cow sense, and ultimately understanding how a cow perceives her environment, is the very core of animal welfare. After all, if we cannot calmly move cows in a safe manner, not much else matters on the farm.
While countless books have been written on the subject, fully appreciating this sixth farm sense takes a lot of practice. Jennifer Van Os, an assistant professor and extension specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is looking to take a new approach to teach the next generation this critical farm skill. To do so, Van Os set about to develop a video game.
“We have developed an innovative, digital, serious game called ‘Mooving Cows,’” shared Van Os, speaking at the 62nd National Mastitis Council Annual Meeting. “This game is akin to a flight simulator for dairy farm personnel to learn to move cows humanely,” she said of the game played on touchscreen tablets.
“‘Mooving Cows’ addresses two major limitations of current training resources and programs: language barriers and passive learning modalities,” continued the University of Wisconsin-Madison educator who received a grant to develop “Mooving Cows.” “The digital game environment is equipped with features that promote learning and cannot be easily achieved using other training modes. These include immediate feedback, controlled opportunities to fail and learn from mistakes, built-in data collection on trainee performance, and varying degrees of visual augmentation to help convey concepts,” she continued when speaking to those gathered at the Atlanta, Ga., meeting.
To better connect with diverse audiences, the “Mooving Cows” video game has minimal written text, features a voiceover narration of all tutorial text, and has a choice of six avatars to improve self-visualization.
A mix of fun and learning objectives
“Players of ‘Mooving Cows’ take on the role of the dairy farm worker,” said Van Os, who smiled as she gave a demonstration to the audience using her favorite onscreen avatar. “They are tasked with moving cows through routine barn environments such as home pen moves, milking parlor situations, and even unpredictable cow behavior when a cow is showing estrus.
“This is so important as one learns how human actions affect cow behavioral responses, cow stress levels, milk production, and worker safety,” said Van Os, who identified the need for this concept in 2018. She then held focus groups with professional trainers, farm owners, and farm employees in the grassroots development of the “Mooving Cows” video game experience.
“At the end of each level, players learn how their actions affected milk production, as mediated by cumulative cow stress,” she said. “Upon successfully completing all eight levels in the game, players can earn a certificate of completion that can be used as documentation of training,” she said, noting that the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) would be one of those programs.
“Mooving Cows” isn’t ready for the big time just yet. Through a series of user feedback mechanisms, the game has moved through Beta testing and its Version 1.0 “Gold” release. After more testing, Version 2.0 will become available for prime time. The game’s next destination would be the app store in the electronic universe.