Just like people, cows feel the call of nature. Cows excrete large amounts of urine throughout the day, often as much as 10 liters per cow per day. With a worldwide cattle population exceeding 1 billion, large quantities of agricultural waste contribute to environmental pollution and global climate change. Cow urine often mixes with solid waste, creating the harmful pollutant ammonia, which then contaminates farmland and nearby water systems. Cow urine can also contain the powerful greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, which when released has almost 300 times the global warming power of CO2. Containing these “natural urges” into one central location allows farm managers to minimize pollutant leakage and contain greenhouse gases. Cows are able to directly assist in this containment, by becoming potty-trained!


A German research team trained a group of 16 calves to use a turf-lined, fenced-in bathroom stall. The behavior of these animals allowed all waste products to be concentrated and contained in one location, preventing runoff to water systems and minimizing contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Cows are thought to have a comparable intelligence level to that of a three-year-old human, allowing them to make cognitive connections and practice learned behaviors. The daily 45 minutes training period, or “MooLoo Training” as the researchers named it, consisted of enclosing the calves within the makeshift bathroom stall and providing them with treats every time they urinated. Over a period of about 10 days, the calves connected waste excretion with receiving a treat and then began excusing themselves to the “facilities”. This behavior was continually enforced as calves were given a treat when visiting the bathroom stall and spritzed with water when they urinated anywhere outside of the stall. Over the 10 day period, 11 of the 16 calves were able to be “potty-trained”.


Large-scale implementation of this behavior training would reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions across the agricultural sector. Previous research suggests that if 80% of cow urine was contained, this would cut associated agricultural ammonia emission in half. Along with decreasing global climate impacts, reduction in ammonia provides a large environmental and human health benefit, as ammonia is a common drinking water contaminant.

Neele Dirksen is a current doctoral candidate at the Faculty of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences University of Rostock and the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN) where she conducts research focused on dairy cattle behavior. She holds a Master Agricultural Sciences with focus on Livestock Science at the University of Göttingen.

Managing Correspondent: Samantha Tracy


Press Article:Potty-trained cattle could help reduce pollution


Journal Article: “Learned control of urinary reflexes in cattle to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions


Photo Credit: Pixabay

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