London: Training cows to use a bovine toilet could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save the planet, according to scientists behind a “MooLoo”.
Researchers from the University of Auckland and the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Germany attempted to potty-train 16 calves using the toilet contraption of their own design, which is not too different from dog toilet mats.
They successfully trained 11 of them to regularly use a latrine which captures their waste and disposes of it before it turns into nitrous oxide, the third most important greenhouse gas after methane and carbon dioxide.
Co-author Dr Jan Langbein, an animal psychologist at the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Germany, said: “It’s usually assumed that cattle are not capable of controlling defecation or urination. Cattle, like many other animals or farm animals, are quite clever and they can learn a lot. Why shouldn’t they be able to learn how to use a lavatory?”
Cows are notorious for their gassy stomachs and their flatulence is a major source of global methane emissions. The amount of land and energy needed to produce both cattle feed and land for grazing also creates huge amounts of carbon dioxide.
It has previously been estimated that cattle agriculture accounts for almost 15 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
While discussion of the climate effects from the meat and dairy industries has largely focused on methane emissions from cattle, cow urine is another area of concern for both air and land health, according to the scientists.
Cow urine has a high concentration of nitrate, a substance that, as it breaks down in contact with soil, leads to land contamination and pollution of nearby waterways if not managed properly. It also produces nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Combined with faeces, the mixture creates ammonia. When this seeps into the soil, specialist bacteria turn it into nitrous oxide.