In a move to help curb greenhouse emissions, scientists have succeeded in potty-training cows by teaching them to urinate in a specially built toilet.
German experts from its Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology have designed the so-called MooLoo which can collect ammonia from the waste so it can be treated.
Agriculture is the largest source of ammonia emissions, with livestock accounting for more than half of this contribution.
When cattle are allowed to graze and relieve themselves, the release of bodily waste can lead to the contamination of local soil and nearby waterways.
To control the problem cows can be contained in barns but the accumulation of waste can produce ammonia.
Ammonia can leach into the soil and become converted by microbes into one of the top three greenhouse gases – nitrous oxide.
“Cattle, like many other animals, are quite clever and they can learn a lot,” said animal psychologist Jan Langbein of the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Dummerstorf, Germany.
“Why shouldn’t they be able to leant how to use a toilet?”
To toilet train the calves, the researchers started rewarding the animals with a sugar treat every time they urinated in the special latrine.
Alongside positive reinforcement, the team also set out to discourage the calves from urinating outside of the MooLoo.
Over the course of a few weeks, the team succeeded in training 11 out of the 16 calves in the experiment to use the MooLoo.