Bizarre Science: How to Train Your Cow…to Use the Loo

If humans use the loo, why can’t cows? Probably not a common question posed by the general populace, however, researchers in Germany have set out to answer it anyway. At first glance teaching animals, especially cows, how to use the toilet might seem like a waste (no pun intended) of time, energy, and resources. However, a large chunk of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions is caused by agricultural activity. Bovine digestion and faeces are huge sources of methane, the most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide. Additionally, increased levels of soil toxicity have been linked to ammonia from cow urine leaching underground which can then be converted into nitrous oxide, another greenhouse giant. 

This is why MooLoo, the term coined for the unique potty training, is hoped to be a feasible method of reducing agriculture’s impact on the climate crisis. Around 15 sessions were held for a total of 16 calves: animals were treated with a snack for using a designated area to get rid of their waste, or mildly punished with a small spray of water or noise for not using the makeshift toilet. Results from this experiment showed 11 of the 16 calves could self-sufficiently use the toilet, a relatively promising outcome. By concentrating on where cows rid their waste, scientists hope it can be more easily treated and lead to a reduction in ammonia pollution. 

Whether this new practice will be reproducible on a larger scale remains to be seen, but many are hoping MooLoo will lead to more sustainable farming practices. 

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Mariam Jallow

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October 2021
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