Scientists Potty-Train Cows to Combat Pollution

A group of researchers from Germany potty trained cows, and it worked! In an attempt to combat pollution caused due to cow urine, researchers trained cows to use latrines built specifically for this purpose instead of letting them urinate in the open.

Scientists at the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN) in Dummerstorf, Germany, developed “MooLoo” for the cows to free themselves systematically over the course of 15 sessions. 


Cattle Urine emits Ammonia

Research finds that cattle urine is one of the largest causes of ammonia emission in the agricultural industry, a potent greenhouse gas. The urea in the urine contains a nitrogen-rich compound which, when mixed with cow’s feces and other fertilizers in the soil, emits harmful nitrous oxide. It can tremendously pollute the land and water it comes in contact with. 

Scientists call it a “climate killer conundrum” and believe that potty-training cows will help resist this environmental catastrophe. According to Dutch research, capturing 80% of a cow’s urine could help reduce 56% of ammonia emissions. “Why shouldn’t (cattle) be able to learn how to use a toilet? Animals are quite clever, and they can learn a lot,” said an animal psychologist at FBN, while discussing their purpose to potty-train cows.


If toddlers can be potty-trained, so can cows!

That’s what the scientists over at FBN state. “The cows are at least as good as children, age 2 to 4 years, at least as quick,” said the senior author of the research paper. The scientists from FBN and the University of Auckland, New Zealand, put 16 cows to the test by preparing them to use MooLoo, “the correct voiding location”. The MooLoo is a makeshift fenced area or artificial turf where scientists conducted their training.

Training experiments were divided into phases. In the first phase, cattle were contained in a closed MooLoo (in-latrine training) and were rewarded with treats in form of barley or electrolyte powder each time they urinated. “Once they were allowed outside, the calves would go in the toilet to get their reward, but they soon learned that there’s only a reward if they urinate,” said the first author of the research to CNN.

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The main purpose of the training was to coach cows ‘self-initiation and self-control of voiding’. It helped the calves to respond to their internal voiding cues. Once released into the open, cows were encouraged to urinate inside the MooLoo depending on their internal cues. Failure to pee in the MooLoo resulted in minor punishments, ie. spraying them with water for three seconds. 

Of the 16 cows put to the test, 11 were successfully potty-trained. The remaining 5 would ‘likely require further training.’


Use of MooLoo in the future

Not only do potty-training cows reduce the ammonia emissions in half, but it also helps diminish ‘contamination of the living areas, the cleanliness, hygiene and welfare of livestock can be improved whilst simultaneously reducing environmental pollution’.

Researchers hope this practice becomes widespread. For it to be so, they believe the entire process has to be automated. “We want to develop automated training systems, automated reward systems,” said the animal psychologist at FBN.


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Feature Image via CNN.

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