Turns out cows can be potty trained as easily as toddlers. Maybe easier.
It’s no bull. Scientists put the task to the test and 11 out of 16 cows learned to use the ‘MooLoo’ when they had to go.
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 two to four years, at least as quick,” said study senior author Lindsay Matthews, an animal behavioural scientist at New Zealand’s University of Auckland.
He worked with colleagues on the tests at an indoor animal research lab in Dummerstorf, Germany.
What started with a half-in-jest question on a New Zealand radio talk show about the very real problem of livestock waste resulted in a serious study published Monday in the journal Current Biology.
It wasn’t just a “wow, this could be fun” academic question. Massive amounts of urine waste is a serious environmental issue, Dr Matthews said.
Urine contains nitrogen, and when mixed with feces becomes ammonia, which is an environmental issue with acid rain and other problems, Dr Matthews said.
It can also taint the water with nitrates and create the airborne pollutant nitrous oxide, he said.
And cows do pee a lot. A single cow can produce about 30 litres of urine a day, Dr Matthews said. In 2019, nitrous oxide comprised 7 per cent of all the US greenhouse gases, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I am not surprised they can train calves to urinate in set locations, but I am surprised no one has demonstrated this before,” said Duke University animal cognition scientist Brian Hare, who wasn’t part of the research.
“The critical question is can it and will it scale?”
If it could be done, toilet training animals would make it easier to manage waste products and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said Donald Broom, a professor of animal welfare at the University of Cambridge in England.