A herd of cows has been “potty-trained” in an experiment that scientists say could pave the way for more environmentally friendly farms.
Waste from cattle farms often contaminates soil and waterways and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and the acidification of soil. For this reason, toilet-training cattle has long been viewed as desirable.
In the latest study, scientists tried a method they called the MooLoo approach to teach calves to use a toilet area in their barn, meaning that urine could be collected and treated. Why is this important if the ammonia produced in cow urine doesn’t directly contribute to the climate crisis? It's because, when it leaches into the soil, microbes convert it into nitrous oxide, which is the third most significant greenhouse gas after methane and carbon dioxide.
Agriculture is the world's biggest source of ammonia emissions, with livestock farming making up more than half of that contribution. Initial estimates suggest that if 80 percent of cattle urine was collected from a barn, the ammonia emissions would be reduced by more than half.
So, how did the scientists train the cattle to use their MooLoo in the barn? It involved training them by a carrot and stick system. When they urinated in the assigned area, they were given a sweet drink or some mashed barley, and when they relieved themselves elsewhere, they were surprised by a short blast of water from above.
Within a few weeks, after about 15 training sessions, 70 percent of the calves in the experiment had been successfully toilet-trained, according to the study published in the journal Current Biology. The authors suggested that those that didn't do as they were asked were most likely slow learners and simply just needed more time to master the skill.
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