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Scientists Managed to Potty-Train Cows

They learned to urinate in a 'MooLoo,' and the discovery is more serious than it sounds
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 13, 2021 11:00 AM CDT
Scientists Managed to Potty-Train Cows
In this undated photo provided by the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Dummerstorf, Germany, a calf enters an astroturf-covered pen nicknamed "MooLoo” to urinate.   (Thomas H?ntzschel/FBN via AP)

(Newser) – Turns out cows can be potty-trained as easily as toddlers. Maybe easier. Scientists put the task to the test and 11 out of 16 cows learned to use the "MooLoo" when they had to go, per the AP. Just like some parents, the researchers used a sweet treat to coax the cows to push through a gate and urinate in a special pen. And it took only 15 days to train the young calves. Some kids take quite a bit longer. "The cows are at least as good as children, age 2 to 4 years, at least as quick," said study senior author Lindsay Matthews, an animal behavioral scientist at New Zealand's University of Auckland who worked with colleagues on the tests at an indoor animal research lab in Germany.

story continues below

What started with a half-in-jest question on a radio talk show about the very real problem of livestock waste resulted in a serious study published Monday in the journal Current Biology. And it wasn't just a "wow, this could be fun" academic question. Massive amounts of urine waste is a serious environmental issue, Matthews said. Urine contains nitrogen, and when mixed with feces becomes ammonia, which is an environmental issue with acid rain and other problems. It can also taint the water with nitrates and create the airborne pollutant nitrous oxide. And cows do pee a lot—a single cow can produce about 8 gallons of urine a day. In 2019, nitrous oxide comprised 7% of all the US greenhouse gases, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

At the lab in Dummerstorf, Germany, the researchers mimicked a toddler's training, putting the cows in the special pen, waiting until they urinated, and then giving them a reward: a sweet liquid of mostly molasses. Cows do have a sweet tooth, Matthews said. If the cows urinated outside the MooLoo after the initial training, they got a squirt of cold water. Then in two sets of experiments, the researchers let the Holstein cows roam about the indoor facility. When they had to urinate, 11 of them pushed into the pen, did their business, and got their sweet reward.

(Read more cows stories.)

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