Toilet-Training Cows is a Win for the Planet – and the Cows

Toilet-Training Cows is a Win for the Planet – and the Cows

Cow excretions can be almost as bad as their metaphorical equivalent, with excrement from free-ranging cows damaging land and streams and waste from confined cows combining to produce ammonia, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. However, some animal psychologists believe that with a little potty training, the harm might be minimized.

The key is a product called MooLoo, as well as educating calves on how to use it. A team reports in Current Biology that a tiny trial was somewhat successful in getting enough cattle potty-trained to offer hope for threatened streams around the world.

Ruminant excretions are beneficial to the soil in moderation, but too many cows in one spot result in unmanageable levels of run-off into surrounding creeks and rivers. In enclosed environments, cattle urine and feces can mix to make ammonia. Although ammonia is necessary for industry and fertilizer production, its unregulated release feeds soil bacteria, which convert it to the strong greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.

Some may see this as yet more reason why “the cow must go.” Others, on the other hand, perceive an issue that they can address.

In a statement, Dr. Jan Langbein of Germany’s Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology said, “It’s widely considered that cattle are incapable of controlling excrement or urination.” Langbein and his colleagues, on the other hand, was not convinced. “Cattle like many other animals or agricultural animals, are highly intelligent and can pick up a lot of information. Why shouldn’t they be taught how to use a toilet?”

“For urination, toileting needs self-control and coordination of a complicated chain of actions comprising cognitive knowledge of bladder fullness, overriding of excretory reflexes, selection of a latrine, and purposeful relaxing of the external urethral sphincter,” according to the paper. The researchers gave diuretics to 16 female Holstein calves and kept them in a lavatory with artificial turf to avoid splashing.

Every time they peed, they were given molasses/glucose or barley snacks. In order to find a deterrent that wouldn’t be considered animal cruelty, the researchers put headphones on the calves after they were freed and played loud noises through them when they urinated in locations they shouldn’t have. “We assumed this would punish the animals in a mild way, but they didn’t seem to mind,” Langbein explained. “In the end, a light deterrent like a spritz of water worked well.”

Five of the cows either didn’t get the message or were too rebellious to reply, indicating that they could be at the heart of a future bovine insurrection.