Could Cleaner Cows Help Protect the Planet?

You can potty train your children and even, with a little effort, your cats. It turns out that there might be a backyard animal that knows how to use the toilet even better than toddlers and kittens, and the impact that could have on the environment could be huge.

A new study conducted at Cell has found that young calves can be successfully trained to poop and pee in designated areas. And researchers believe that if scaled up, the practice could have a big impact on controlling waste ammonia, one of the most polluting greenhouse gas and pollution problems in the world. ‘Agriculture.

“It is generally assumed that cattle are not able to control defecation or urination,” said co-author Jan Langbein, animal psychologist at the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN) in Germany in a statement. “Cattle, like many other animals… are quite intelligent and they can learn a lot. Why couldn’t they learn to use the toilet? “

[Related: It’s not just methane—meat production fills the air with noxious particulate matter too.]

For the study, the scientists took 16 calves and trained them to use a cow “toilet” or an area fenced with artificial turf. Rewards for using the toilet properly could mean a snack of barley or electrolyte powder, and relieving yourself outside resulted in an unpleasant noise or uncomfortable splash of water.

Over the course of about 10 days of training, the researchers found that 11 of the small cows had achieved what the authors called the “MooLoo” training, using the bathroom in their fake grass stalls instead of grass outside, which is not the case. so far from the level of potty performance achieved by young children.

“Very quickly, with an average of 15 to 20 urinations, the cows would go into the toilet on their own,” the study author and psychology researcher at the University of Auckland told Radio New Zealand, Lindsay Matthews. “In the end, three quarters of the animals were doing three quarters of their urination in the toilet,” he said.

As cute as it sounds to train tiny farm animals, it also serves a pretty important environmental purpose. While much of the research on the environmental impacts of cattle focuses on their farts and methane-filled burps, less is said about their ammonia-filled pee and poo. Ammonia itself is not an environmental problem, but when the chemical mixes with the soil that cows tread on every day, microbes in the soil turn it into nitrous oxide, a compound that made up seven percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. gas emissions (GHG) from human activity and is nearly 300 times more potent than the usual suspected GHG carbon dioxide. The vast majority of ammonia emissions can be attributed to agriculture.

[Related: Here’s the actual impact of cutting down on red meat (and everything else).]

Not to mention that ammonia can acidify the soil and pollute the waterways in which it flows, in addition to contributing to air pollution. According to CNN, a farmed cow can produce 66 to 88 pounds of droppings and 8 gallons of urine every day, and controlling that waste could have a big impact. The study authors estimate that capturing 80 percent of cattle urine in a MooLoo-like setup could reduce ammonia emissions by 56 percent (and create a much cleaner environment for cattle). .

There is obviously still a lot to learn about how to potty train cows, how feasible it is on a large scale and how much it will impact the environment. Until then, if you’re concerned about livestock-induced greenhouse gas emissions, replacing cow’s milk, cheese, and meat with plant-based alternatives is a good place to start.


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