Scientists teach calves to use the toilet

Calf “going to the toilet”

A calf enters a latrine at an experimental farm in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Photo: Thomas Häntzschel / FBN / dpa

(Photo: dpa)

Researchers from New Zealand and Germany have successfully taught most of the 16 animals participating in the experiment to retain their nitrogen-rich urine, scientists Lindsey Matthews and Douglas Elif of the University of Auckland said Tuesday. Then the animals urinate in the “toilet”. The goal was to capture and remove nitrogen before it could contaminate the water or turn into a long-lived greenhouse gas.

The farm where the training took place is run by the Institute for Research in Farm Animal Biology in Germany. She added that if the calves urinated in the wrong place, the scientists made the animals’ collars vibrate. But when they actually peed in the toilet bowl, they were rewarded with food. The stable also differed from the others in its bright green color.

Matthews said, “Some people train their babies this way — put them in the bathroom, wait for them to pee, and then reward them when they do. This has been found to work with calves as well.” In a very short time it became clear that the calves understood the relationship between desired behavior and reward. At the end of the 15-day training, three-quarters of the animals would have deposited three-quarters of their urine into the toilet.

“If we could collect 10 or 20 percent of urine production, that would be enough to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and nitrate leaching,” Elif said. Cattle urine is one of the main causes of the nitrogen problem. Any decrease in this ratio will make a difference.

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Matthews said many people refer to them as “crazy scientists.” But the building blocks for further research are in place.

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