An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Researchers in Germany recently demonstrated that cattle can be toilet trained to reduce some of their climate impact. By having the young cows pee in latrines made of turf, the team of experts in animal behavior and agricultural science stopped the natural production of nitrous oxide from the cow’s urine. Cows are notorious for their contributions to greenhouse gas emissions in large-scale farming; the animals belch (and to a lesser extent, fart) methane, and their urine and poop combine to produce ammonia, which isn’t a greenhouse gas itself but is converted into nitrous oxide by microbes in the soil. The team trained nearly a dozen calves to urinate in a makeshift latrine, nicknamed the MooLoo, thereby stopping the urine from becoming part of the problem. The research was published on Monday in Current Biology.
Training the cows was a fairly simple process on paper. First, the scientists penned 16 of the animals into the latrine area. When the cows urinated, they were given food or sugar water, tacit endorsements of their decisions. The next step was teaching them not to pee in the pasture, which the team did by implementing an unpleasant stimulus whenever they did so. That stimulus was originally a loud noise, but when the researchers realized the animals didn’t mind it much, they swapped it out for spraying the cows with water, a relatively harmless message of “bad cow.” The team found that the cows’ ability to hold it and go in the latrine was equivalent to a child’s ability with the toilet — even superior to that of young children. [The team] hopes to bring the latrines to other sites and increase the number of potty-trained cows. “To do this, we must first automate the whole training procedure and adapt it to the conditions on the farm,” he told Gizmodo in an email. “We want to tackle this in a follow-up project.” The report notes there are a couple of limitations with this effort. “First, not all of the cows could be potty-trained. Only 10 of the 16 calves quickly learned to pee in the proper place and could routinely reproduce that action,” reports Gizmodo. “That’s trouble for anyone trying to scale up the practice (there are more than 1 billion cows on Earth). Second, the experiment didn’t cover defecation, and cow poop also contains ammonia. There’s also still the major problem of methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, tied to cows burps and farts.”
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