A new study out of Germany highlights cows’ cognitive abilities by training them to use bathroom stalls. The study explains the possible impact potty-trained cows could have on emission rates, especially for gases like ammonia – one of the most concentrated gases in cow urine.
In this study, calves learned to urinate in a contained, turf-covered, stall. This system collects, recycles, and treats the cows’ excretion. The eventual goal of this collection is to use the excretion to create fertilizers and reduce emission rates.
Cow excretion contributes to many of the high emissions in our atmosphere and makes cattle husbandry one of the higher pollutants in today’s climate change conversation. Ammonia, a key ingredient of cow urine, is linked to lower human health. If 80% of cow urine was collected and treated, this could potentially cut ammonia emissions in half.
The possible effects of potty trained cattle would include cleaner air, lower emission rates, and happier cows. Harnessing the cognitive abilities of cows could revolutionize the husbandry and cattle industries.
In the study, cows went through MooLoo Training. This training system combined backward chaining and a reward-based training procedure. Backward chaining is a type of animal training that teaches the animal the final action of a sequence first.
For MooLoo Training, trainers first taught the cattle to urinate in the stall and rewarded them with a treat. Then, when they learned the association of a treat with the stall, they were taught to associate the hallway leading to the stall with another treat. Trainers also used spritzes of water to discourage cattle from urinating when not in the stall.
Using this method, researchers were able to train 11-16 cows to pee in the stall within 10 days of beginning MooLoo Training.
Of course, the potential impact this could have on climate would require MooLoo training to be conducted on a large scale. Researchers believe that most cows have the ability to learn to control their micturition reflex, or bladder. However, the process is the problem.
Stalls must be automated to make the training process efficient for both cattle and handlers. This means having an automated reward system and an automated water spritz system throughout the process. To create actual environmental impact, MooLoo training needs automation on a large scale.
This study and the potential implementation of MooLoo Training could help combat pressing environmental needs and improve cow welfare and happiness.