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Austin Stewart, assistant professor at Iowa State University, came up with the idea of allowing chickens to live a virtual free range life, before being killed for food.
According to Vox Media, the virtual world that Stewart has proposed is called Second Livestock. The chickens would wear virtual reality goggles that would allow them to see themselves in a virtually free range environment.
Second Livestock is dubbed a “virtually reality-enabled, massively multiplayer online games for chickens.” In the virtual world, the chickens would see water sources and little bugs crawling around that would be mapped to where their actual food and water sources are in their cage. This allows the chickens to actually bend down and eat and drink where they see the food and water.
The theory behind Stewart’s “Virtual Free Range” living eliminates the need for the physical space required for free-range livestock.
Vox reported that Stewart got the initial idea for Second Livestock when Michael Mercil, chair of the department of art at Ohio State, mentioned to him that free range living can be stressful and dangerous for the chickens.
"There's research suggesting that free range chickens show all the signs of having a stressful life," Stewart told Vox. "They have more broken bones, they get broken legs, etc., whereas birds raised in little boxes don't have those indicators of stress. And who's to say which is better?"
“‘Virtual Free Range’ gives livestock the experience of free range life while in the safe confines of our facility,” Second Livestock states on its site. “[It] combines the physical and psychological benefits of free range with the safety and security of conventional agriculture. Chickens are free to roam, socialize and 'eat' virtual food, which appear in the virtual world where their real food trays are located.”
Stewart explained to Vox that he envisions as a social experience between real chickens rather than as a game involving robots pretending to be chickens.
“Maybe the farmer could disguise himself as a chicken to check on his flock, but there would be no non-player characters,” Stewart said. “They'd be real chickens, because the facilities are all networked together, and they'd be in the same virtual world, and they'd have microphones.”
Not to mention, virtual free range could be cheaper for farmers because there will be less risk of injury or death.
“You don't have the loss you do when you farm free range chickens,” Stewart explained. “You'd be harvesting a significantly higher number of chickens.”