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Second Livestock – virtual reality for chickens


May 27, 2014

Second Livestock: 'Cockulus Rift' project aims to improve the lives of battery hens using Virtual Reality

Second Livestock: 'Cockulus Rift' project aims to improve the lives of battery hens using Virtual Reality

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Battery hens live pretty grim lives – but what if their lot could be improved with the use of virtual reality? Second Livestock is a project that envisions caged hens being fitted with VR goggles, microphones and movement sensors to give them the impression that they're out in the barnyard doing ... whatever it is chickens prefer to do all day. If the chickens themselves believe they're free and happy, does that mean they should get the free range stamp, even though they're cooped up?

Is this the real world? Is this just fantasy? Art is meant to start conversations – and this piece has certainly started one around the Gizmag offices.

Second Livestock is a conceptual art project that sees battery hens strapped over exercise balls and fitted with virtual reality goggles intended to convince these captive animals that they're out in the barnyard having the time of their lives.

The goggles react when the chickens move or turn their heads, and they're able to noon about in cyberspace, interacting with other chooks and generally doing whatever it is chickens do all day when they're not cooped up in cages.

On one hand Second Livestock is a comment on the cruelty of battery farming – on the other it makes us think about exactly how much of our own lives we spend staring into screens that convince us we're getting things done and having an effect on our surroundings. It's a bit depressing, really.

There's something sweet about the idea of plugging these poor cluckers into their goggles and creating a fun life for them – after all, if a chicken wears these things from an early age, how will they know the difference between real life and what they're seeing?

Of course, it's a sinister reality – and all it'd take would be for one chook to peck the red seed, escape from the system, learn kung fu and start dodging bullets in slow motion, and the whole system could come crashing down.

This "Cockulus Rift" idea is the work of Austin Stewart, an artist, microcontroller programmer and circuit designer. Stewart is also responsible for the "Grass Mask" as shown below – a WW1-style gas mask with wheatgrass growing out the bottom so you can breathe in freshly produced oxygen. We'll pop him on our "inventors to watch" list.

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade. All articles by Loz Blain

It is not the worst Idea I have seen on Gizmag.


The Matrix for chickens. Man this is getting sicker every day. Let the chicken enjoy a field.


C'mon people, surely this is some kind of joke....... These researchers need to spend some time back in reality.

I will be physically sick if this was done using government grant money. This person needs to be smacked hard!!!

Steve Harding

I think some of you guys missed the article. It's worth reading.


From his image above, one gets the distinct impression that author Loz Blain has some personal experience of the VR goggles and, it would seem, application of this technology to chickens will result in the production of the much sought after and highly commercial cuboid eggs. They make for such easy stacking in the 'fridge.

Must admit I was looking for an April 1st. date tag on this article.... Hmmm!


Cool. Virtual chicken sex is next.


Quack, Chickens get VR set before I do and they don't even have to pay for it!! Quack!!


You gotta be clucking mad to follow this


I don't see how this solves the problem/expense of raising free range foul. It think the inventor confuses perception with reality. What the foul believes/sees does not change the quality of the eggs/flesh.

Living outside requires a special, hardier breed that grows four times slower. That makes them the most expensive, but much more nutritious.

Could it be not enough people buy the much higher priced meat to incentivize capital investment? I buy it, but its rare. I have only found it at WFM.

Don Duncan

@Slowburn you said exactly what I was thinking.

This idea is crackpot! Why not spend a little bit extra and buy free range eggs or keep your own chickens or support a neighbor who does.


I smell a Matrix sequel.

Daniel Gregory

What a waste of time and resources. Why not give the chickens REAL free ranges !

I think this is a job for the Coop Clux Clan !

Martin Hone

Just give the chickens larger cages so they can move around. That is all they really need. This idea claims they will end up happier? Chickens could not give a rats a*** about being 'outside' ... all they do is scan the sky looking for predators. How about giving them 3D glasses and a flat screen TV above the feeder end? Probably a bit more cost effective than this idea.

The Skud

We had a problem with chickens on my dad's farm. Three to a small cage, they got bored and started eating each other. We installed red lighting and then loudspeakers playing Mozart all day. Going into that shed with no windows, the dim red light, the music and 5,000 chickens all singing along in cages 5 tiers high was one of the weirdest experiences. I buy free range these days and think that's what this guys art project is telling us to do.

Doug MacLeod

It is ART!! don't even think that this is getting real.

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