| 11.3°C Dublin

Potty-training cows may help save the planet, say scientists


Stock image. Photo: Tom O'Hanlon

Stock image. Photo: Tom O'Hanlon

Stock image. Photo: Tom O'Hanlon

Training cows to use a bovine lavatory could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save the planet, scientists say.

Researchers from the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology in France attempted to potty-train 16 calves using a “MooLoo” contraption of their own design.

They successfully trained 11 of them to regularly use a latrine which captures their waste and disposes of it before it turns into nitrous oxide, the third most important greenhouse gas behind methane and carbon dioxide.

Co-author Jan Langbein, an animal psychologist at the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Germany, said: “It’s usually assumed that cattle are not capable of controlling defecation or urination.

"Cattle, like many other animals or farm animals, are quite clever and they can learn a lot. Why shouldn’t they be able to learn how to use a lavatory?”

Cows are notorious for their gassy stomachs, and their flatulence is a major source of global methane emissions.

But the environmental impact of cattle farming goes beyond wind, as the amount of land and energy needed to produce cattle feed and land for grazing creates huge amounts of carbon dioxide.

It has previously been estimated that cattle agriculture accounts for almost 15pc of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

But while methane and carbon dioxide are the two most troublesome gases, cows are also indirectly responsible for producing the third most troublesome gas nitrous oxide.

Faeces and urine produced by cows mix together and turn into ammonia, and when this seeps into the soil, specialist bacteria turn it into nitrous oxide.

To potty-train the calves, researchers began by rewarding them when they urinated in a latrine, and then allowed them access to the latrine even when they were grazing outside.

Dr Langbein said: “You have to try to include the animals in the process and train the animals to follow what they should learn.

“We guessed it should be possible to train the animals, but to what extent we didn’t know.”

Researchers said the calves showed a level of performance comparable to that of children and superior to that of very young children.

They hope that with more training the success rate can be improved.

Dr Langbein hopes that “in a few years all cows will go to a toilet” and published the findings in the journal Current Biology.

Farming Newsletter

Get the latest farming news and advice every Tuesday and Thursday.

This field is required

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

Most Watched