6:00 AM PDT, September 19, 2021
And according to Lindsay Matthew, a senior behavioral scientist from the University of Auckland, it only took 15 days.
“The thing that’s really surprising here is how quickly the cows learned relative to children,” she said. “So with very, very intensive training, some children can learn in a matter of a day or so. But most children, as you’ll be aware, take quite some time and some days, weeks or months.”
“And so we only had 15 training sessions with these animals, and we had about, on average, 20-25 urinations, and they were fully trained.”
Researchers used the reward and touch of punishment method to get cows to push through a designated gate and go into an AstroTurf-covered pen nicknamed a “MooLoo.” They then urinated, and did not defecate.
Once their business was done, they were rewarded with a super sweet liquid of mostly molasses. And if the cow urinated outside the MooLoo, they got a squirt of cold water.
Because of the limited time frame of the experiment, researchers gave diuretics to the cattle to get them to urinate more. And although amusing, the motive behind the study is quite serious.
“When you have animals outdoors, the urea can get converted into nitrates in the soil and then go and pollute the waterways and cause all sorts of problems in the waterways,” Matthew adds.
“And also, if the nitrate concentrations are too high, you get blue babies and all that sort of thing. So, that’s the direct nitrate problem in the soil. And then the nitrates get converted to nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”
The United States Environmental Protection Agency says that, in 2019, nitrous oxide accounted for seven percent of all the U.S.’ greenhouse gases.
But the biggest environmental problem for livestock is the methane they emit in belches and flatulence, which is a significant source of global warming.