Scientists Are Toilet Training Cows To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
A group of researchers have managed to toilet-train a number of cows in a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
For cows who spend their time munching on grass in open fields, the whole world could be considered a toilet. Farmed cattle can produce roughly 66-88 pounds of faeces and eight gallons of urine each day, meaning there’s a lot of waste being left out in the environment to seep into the soil.
The spread of their waste can have negative effects on the environment, with ammonia produced from cow waste converting into the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide when mixed with soil.
The waste can also contaminate soil and local waterways, CNN reports, so Jan Langbein, an animal psychologist at the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN) in Germany, questioned whether he and his team would be able to help reduce this contamination by encouraging the cows to use the toilet in specific areas.
He commented: ‘Why shouldn’t (cattle) be able to learn how to use a toilet? Animals are quite clever, and they can learn a lot.’
The team of researchers from FBN and FLI in Germany and the University of Auckland in New Zealand set out to test the theory with a process they called ‘MooLoo training’, the first stage of which saw calves put in a closed latrine and being rewarded every time they urinated.
FBN’s Neele Dirksen, first author of the study, told CNN that once they were allowed outside the calves would go back to the latrine to get their reward, but they ‘soon learned that there’s only a reward if they urinate’.
Using in-ear headphones, the researchers then attempted to encourage the calves to use the toilets by playing a ‘very nasty sound whenever they urinated outside’, Langbein explained.
He continued: ‘We thought this would punish the animals, but they didn’t care. Ultimately, a splash of water worked well as a gentle deterrent.’
With the reward of a electrolyte mixture or crushed barley, calves were trained for 45 minutes each day. After 10 training days, 11 out of the 16 calves involved were considered to have been successfully toilet trained.
The scientists only focused on urine for the study, rather than faeces, as study senior author Lindsay Matthews explained urine is a bigger problem, at least in Europe. However, Matthews predicts that if cows can be toilet-trained for urine, they could also be trained when it comes to faeces.
The research, published this week in the journal Current Biology, showed that it is possible to toilet-train cattle; a finding that prompted Langbein to hope that ‘in a few years all cows will go to a toilet’.
Calves were described as performing at a similar level to children when being toilet-trained, and apparently did better than very young children.
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