A team of scientists from German Farm Animal Biology Research Institute has started a curious project, aimed at teaching cattle to go to the bathroom. It may seem like an eccentricity. However, if we take into account how polluting they can be cow feces and urine, We understand that it is important that they deposit them in a place from which they can later be disposed of.
Basically, they have been trained by non-invasive rewards and punishments, as we could do with a dog or any other animal, the kind that are considered more tame. And the funny thing is that the results have been quite positive, taking into account that train cows it is not something very common.
How have they done it? This is something that can be read in the study on the subject that they have published in Current Biology.
Why do cow feces and urine contaminate?
The effect of ruminant flatulence on the atmosphere is more than known. They emit methane, which acts as a powerful greenhouse gas, With all of that implies.
Flatulence is also very polluting, due to methane emissions into the atmosphere
In fact, in a recently published study it can be seen that animal husbandry emits twice as many emissions as the growing vegetables. But it is also not a question of eliminating it completely.
You can continue to raise livestock, taking into account that you not only have to pay attention to flatulence. Also at bowel movements. And it is true that livestock feces, for example, are good for the soil, where they function as fertilizer. But if they accumulate they can be harmful, especially if they reach rivers by runoff.
In addition, if they are mixed with the urine of cows, it generates ammonia, which when processed by soil bacteria gives rise to nitrous oxide. Thus, we would be facing a new greenhouse gas. The authors of this recent study thought that all that could be solved if the cows went to the bathroom. That is, if they had an established place to relieve themselves and could hold out until they got there. It seemed hard to get them to do it, but they chose to give it a try and the results have been amazing.
A curious training
For an animal, cow or not, to be able to controlling your urge to urinate Several requirements must be met.
First, be aware when your bladder is full, then the need to urinate will be imminent. On the other hand, they must override excretory reflexes that all animals have at birth. And, finally, once they have selected the place where they can relieve themselves, they have to learn to relax the sphincter by the way.
11 of the 16 cows learned to urinate in the right place
These scientists believed that with a little training it could be achieved. So the first thing they did was make a toilet for cow urine. This basically consisted of a room separated from the barn by a small fence and covered with artificial grass, to avoid splashing.
Then 16 cows were given a diuretic and taught by rewards and punishments that this was the ideal place to urinate. As a reward it was used molasses or barley treats. The punishment was more complicated, because they did not want it to be mistreatment for the animal. Initially they opted to put headphones with unpleasant sounds, which were activated whenever they did their needs outside the chosen site. However, it did not seem to bother them and therefore it was not a real punishment. Finally they opted for a jet of water and that was more uncomfortable for them. Nothing like a good hose.
After about 15 days of training, 5 cows continued to use any corner as a toilet. However, there were 11 who did internalize the training and urinated in the indicated place a 77% of the time. In fact, most stayed that way after the rewards and punishments routine was removed.
These are curious results, since the percentage was even more efficient than when teaching a young child to go to the bathroom. Everything is a matter of persistence, especially if it is a necessary measure to combat the greenhouse effect and, with it, that global warming that worries us so much.