Toilet-Training Cows Is No Bull

Researchers monitor calves as they use the MooLoo, a special pen for urination.

Human activity may be the main cause of climate change, but all these cows milling and mooing about don’t help, either. Everyone knows that cows produce methane-laden flatulence, but there’s another problem — their urine contains ammonia. The nitrogen leeches into the soil and turns into nitrous oxide, which is no laughing matter. So what’s the answer, giant diapers? No, just train them to use a toilet instead of the soil-let.

A pair of researchers from the University of Auckland traveled to a research institute’s farm in Germany with the hope of training a group of 16 calves to do their business in a special pen. The “MooLoo” is painted bright green and carpeted with artificial turf so it’s less weird for the cows. First they left the calves in the pen until they peed, and then gave it a reward of sugar water. From there, they started extended the animals’ distance from the MooLoo. Whenever the calves thought outside the box, they would be sprayed with water for three seconds. The results are kind of surprising: within an average of 15-20 urination sessions, 11 of the 16 cows had been trained successfully and were using the MooLoo 75% of the time. Watch a calf earn some sugar water after the break.

German cows mostly live in barns, but millions of other cows spend much of their time outside. So, how would that work? The researchers believe that cows could be trained to go when they gather for milking time. Makes sense to us, but how do you train cows on a large scale? Maybe with bovine VR?

Via BBC and Gizmodo

28 thoughts on “Toilet-Training Cows Is No Bull

      1. It doesn’t. But with gas, you get poo, and urine. Urine apparently has it’s own problems.

        But it’s good to know that cows can be trained. (Perhaps dairy farmers already knew this….)

      2. I don’t get the flatulence issue. The cow eats grass, which is captured carbon, it farts, the methane goes in the atmosphere and breaks down to CO2 which grass uses to make more grass. Zero sum. So what’s the issue?

          1. “Marcus says:
            September 22, 2021 at 12:47 am
            Because methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than just plain CO2, and agricultural emissions are a massive part of global methane release.”

            If there were fewer people, and those allowed to live, were to eat less, or not at all, we wouldn’t need agriculture…

            If we all went vegan, then it would be human flatulence, instead of cow. The human digestive system isn’t able to process large volumes of vegetation. Herbivores do a much better job eating plants, and then we ribeye steak for dinner.

            Bacteria do a great job of producing methane (swamp gas). We could solve the methane problem, by just killing of all the plants… Unfortunately, plants are the only living thing that suck carbon (in the form of CO2), directly from the environment. All life on Earth, is carbon-based. Reducing CO2, reduces plant life, which reduces the food supply, and the population of all life in general. Why do people want to kill all life on the planet?

  1. It would be more efficient to place cows in closed space with grating on the floor, feeder and water source on one end and some form of semi-automated centralized milking system. You feed the one end of the cow with water and nutrient-rich feed, clean up easily any mess that gets out the other end, milk the cow on a daily basis. And from time to time replace dead cows with fresh ones. Try not to mix cow ends when feeding…

  2. Oh man. If you give cows a more diverse diet, the poop would be thicker and less ammonia producing. But no.. The cow would produce less milk that wat and milk with a less accepted taste…

  3. A few years ago my partner and I had a pet poddy lamb, we had her from 3 days old after she was rejected by her mother. It was winter at the time and we kept her inside the house for the first few months of her life.

    As it turns out you can house train a sheep/lamb to live at a suburban house (with a decent backyard of course). We brought a potty training mat usually used to house train a puppy, one of those square units with fake grass and a tray underneath to catch the nasty stuff, and whenever she started to look like she was about to wee one of us would pick her up and take her to the mat.

    After a couple of weeks whenever she needed to go she walked herself over to the mat and did her business.

    Funnily enough we had also trained her to go for walks on a lead around the neighbourhood much to the amusement of the locals, many times we had the local kids come past with a bucket of grass they had picked from their backyards to feed to her. We had also trained her to “shake hands” on command, it was the cutest thing ever.

    As she grew older and bigger we eventually had to keep her outside (plus when they get bigger they start to smell of sheep grease aka lanolin) and she slowly forgot her “house training” but she had kept up with the training for a good 10 months without us needing to take her to the mat.

    1. Animals I’ve seen house-trained or helped house-train:
      Rabbits (just for pee), ferrets, goats, mini potbelly pigs, cockatoos, crows.
      I think a lot of animals are pretty bright and have an instinctual understanding that it’s a bad idea to pee where you sleep, so if you provide them with an alternative and some rewards they’ll be glad to cooperate.

  4. I’m surprised that having the cow pee inside is better than nature taking care of it outside like it’s been done for thousands of years and is done with all other undomesticated animals out there. But I’ve worked on only small old fashion farms. Not the mega-farms which probably produce far too much waste for the local environment to handle.

    1. Funny how cows are the worst thing ever but the herds of millions of buffalo that used to populate the great plains were “just nature”. Can’t graze cattle on open range because they’ll “destroy the soil” but those millions of buffalo were doing the opposite, distributing seeds with fertilizer and tilling up the soil with their hooves so rain could penetrate easier.

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