Cows have been potty-trained to reduce greenhouse gas emissions


By Christa Lesté-Lasserre, NewScientist

13 September 2021


Young cows have learned to urinate in a dedicated “latrine” that whisks the waste away before it can pollute waterways or trigger the release of harmful gases.


Nitrates from livestock urine can contaminate groundwater, potentially threatening human health. What’s more, nitrous oxide that arises when livestock urine and faeces mix can cause respiratory problems and contribute to global warming.


By training cattle to void directly into a sort of “cow toilet”, however, Lindsay Matthews at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and his colleagues have potentially found a way to keep water and air cleaner, improving health and welfare for both humans and animals.


Matthews’s team taught 16 5-month-old Holstein heifers to use a custom-built, plastic-grass-floored latrine when they felt the need to urinate, using a three-step training process. First, the team placed pairs of calves in the latrine until they urinated; then gave them a treat – either diluted molasses or barley – through an automatic dispenser and opened the exit door.


Next, the team placed the calves in a 2-metre-long alley next to the latrine, which had a gate that the animals could push open in order to enter the latrine. When the heifers urinated inside the latrine, they received the tasty treat, but if a calf urinated in the alley...


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