Cows are getting potty trained over greenhouse emissions


Some cattle have better manners than humans.

About a dozen bovines at the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology, in Dummerstorf, Germany, have been successfully trained to potty in “MooLoos” — a designated pen, lined with AstroTurf, where cows may safely urinate without threat to the environment.

The ammonia in cow urine is a known greenhouse gas as it produces nitrous oxide when released into the soil. Globally, about 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to livestock farming.

Researchers Lindsay Matthews and Douglas Elliffe spoke to Radio New Zealand Monday about their study, which involved a Pavlovian reward system — sugar water — to encourage cows to use the MooLoo.

“This is how some people train their children — they put them on the toilet, wait for them to pee, then reward them if they do it,” Matthews said.

Alternatively, those who peed outside the pen were sprayed with water for three seconds.

By the end of the trial, including a series of 10 sessions, 11 of 16 cows were successfully potty-trained.

Research shows that the capture of some 80% of bovine urine in latrines could lead to a 56% decrease in global ammonia emissions.

“Very quickly, within 15 to 20 urinations on average, the cows would self-initiate entry to the toilet,” Mathews said. “By the end, three quarters of the animals were doing three-quarters of their urinations in the toilet.”

Compared with humans, juvenile cows impressed study authors, whose findings were published in Current Biology Monday.

“The calves showed a level of performance comparable to that of children and superior to that of very young children,” they wrote.

The effect of potty-training global livestock at a rate of some 80% could reduce ammonia emissions by as much as 56%, researchers said.

But every bit extra counts. “If we could collect 10 or 20% of urinations,” said Elliffe, “it would be sufficient to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and nitrate leaching significantly.”



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