In a recent study, scientists “potty-trained” cows in an attempt to reduce the animals’ greenhouse gas emissions. The study, published in Current Biology, included 16 calves trained to defecate in one spot. After several weeks of training, 11 out of 16 calves successfully learned to use the spot. Researchers suggested the calves that didn’t pick up the habit may just need more training to master the process. 

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These efforts are an attempt to reduce agriculture-based emissions. Currently, farming is the largest source of ammonium pollution, with livestock farming contributing over 50% of the waste. While ammonia from cow urine itself does not contribute to greenhouse gases, when it leaches in the soil, it is converted into nitrous oxide. This oxide is the third most prevalent greenhouse gas after methane and carbon dioxide.

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Researchers say that if all cattle could be trained to defecate in designated areas, treating the urine could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over half. There haven’t been significant attempts to train cows like this before, so the recent attempt helps gauge whether cows can learn and hold on to the training for a meaningful amount of time.

The calves were trained using a system known as MooLoo, which directed them to defecate in a designated area in their barn. This was achieved by rewarding those that urinated in the right place and gently punishing those that did not.

Jan Langbein, an animal psychologist at the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Germany, said cows can be trained much like dogs and other animals. “Cattle, like many other animals, are quite clever and they can learn a lot,” said Langbein “Why shouldn’t they be able to learn how to use a toilet?”

The team is now working on creating a system that automates cattle potty training. They say that the system should be able to help train calves with minimal intervention from the farmers. “We want to develop some kind of sensor technology which is all-inclusive,” said Langbein. “In a few years all cows will go to a toilet.”

Via The Guardian

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