German scientists train cows to use the toilet to help environment

German scientists train cows to use the toilet to help environment

In what might be the strangest news of the week, scientists from Germany and New Zealand have taught cows to urinate in a designated toilet area, as part of a research programme aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Potty training cows… to save the environment?

Scientists in Germany and New Zealand have trained 16 cows to urinate in a designated latrine pen. According to the scientists, the ability to collect urine from cows could significantly reduce the impact cattle farming has on the environment.

When cows urinate, they release nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, into the air. They also deposit a large amount of nitrate onto the ground, or into water sources (like rivers or ponds). "If we could collect 10 or 20 percent of the urine output, we could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and nitrate leaching," said Douglas Elliffe from the University of Auckland. The collected urine could then be treated to reduce the amount of pollutants.

Reducing pollution from agricultural practices

In New Zealand, agriculture is responsible for around half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. To try and combat the problem, extensive research has been conducted into the subject. Researchers have looked into breeding animals that produce lower amounts of methane, using alternative food for the animals and even vaccinating them so that they produce less harmful gasses.

The animals were trained at a farm operated by the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Scientists managed to train the cows to urinate in a specific location using food as a reward; the researchers said the results were comparable to what can be expected from a three-year-old child. Elliffe said that the research shows that training cows to urinate in a specific area is fundamentally possible, although the challenge now is to start training large herds to do the same, as well as adapting the technique to countries like New Zealand, where farm animals spend more time outdoors than they do in a barn.

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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