As part of a research program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scientists have taught cows to urinate in a specific area.
In an article in the current issue of “Current Biology”, a team of New Zealand and German scientists explained that the possibility of contracting this disease can significantly reduce the environmental impact of livestock farming.
Scientists trained 16 calves to urinate in a toilet with the help of feed rewards. The results are similar to what would be expected of a three-year-old, the researchers said.
The idea of training cows to collect urine was originally a joke, says animal behavior researcher Lindsay Matthews. “People’s reaction is of course ‘crazy scientists,’ but that makes perfect sense.
Because urine excretion from cows is problematic in two ways: they release greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, known as laughing gas, and contain large amounts of nitrate, which precipitate in the soil and in the water. “If we could collect 10 or 20 percent of urine production, we could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and nitrate leaching,” says Douglas Elfe of the University of Auckland. The collected urine must then be processed.
According to Elliffe, research shows that toilet training cows is essentially feasible. The challenge now is to expand the concept to train large herds and adapt it to environments such as New Zealand, where the animals spend most of their time outdoors rather than in a barn.
In New Zealand, agriculture accounts for about half of greenhouse gas emissions, mainly in the form of methane and nitrous oxide. This is why extensive research on possible solutions has been done for years. Other projects include raising farm animals with low methane emissions, and using alternative feeds or even animal vaccines so that they produce less harmful gases.
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