A new initiative in the livestock sector has cows heading off to cubicles to wee in private, in a bid to reduce their impacts on climate change.
- Researchers say cattle have been toilet trained within days
- The reward-based training is similar to toilet training for toddlers
- They say MooLoo pens will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
German and New Zealand researchers are hoping to redirect thousands of litres of urine by toilet training cattle to use MooLoos.
They say encouraging cattle to urinate in one area will improve the health of farm waterways and soil and, most importantly, reduce the amount of nitrous oxide produced by cattle, as it is a significant greenhouse gas.
University of Auckland researcher Lindsay Matthews said the process was a bit like toilet training toddlers.
“It was really just two simple steps, and we use a procedure that a lot of people use with toddlers — you associate the place where they need to go.
Mr Matthews said it did not take long for the cattle to catch on to the incentive-based training.
“Sometimes they made a mistake outside, so we would give them a little spray of cold water for a couple of seconds,” he said.
Mr Matthews said most cows learned the connection within days.
“Around about 20-25 urinations all up, and most of the animals were going in there most of the time.”
Why is cow wee an issue?
The problem essentially is there are too many nutrients in cows’ urine.
“[Cattle] do two or three litres of urine at a time, it gushes into a small area on the soil, and the plants can’t handle it, the soil can’t handle it, and that leads to a couple of major issues,” Mr Matthews said.
“One is the excess nitrates run through the soil and into waterways which is not good for the health of the water or people who drink it, and the other is that it gets converted into nitrous oxide, which is a 300 times more potent global warming agent than carbon dioxide.
“The reason it’s a problem is that it’s very nutrient-rich.
“It’s too rich, so there are heaps of nutrients in there that can be utilised and put back onto pastures or wherever, in a more dilute, controlled way so we don’t get the problem of excess runoff.
“If we actually ask them to help us, they can help solve the problem.”
Researchers say the next challenge will be scaling up the process, so that toilet training cattle becomes economically feasible for farmers who want to use it.