Can cattle learn to use a toilet?

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Typically, cattle urinate and defecate with little or no control over their excretion behaviour, with negative consequences for the environment and the animals themselves. The resulting harmful ammonia emissions could be significantly reduced by using a latrine and separating faeces and urine.

In cooperation with psychologists from The University of Auckland (NZ) and colleagues from the Institute of Animal Welfare and Animal Husbandry in Celle, Germany, scientists from the Institute of Behavioural Physiology at FBN recently published an article in the renowned journal "Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews". The paper with the title: "Conditionability of 'voluntary' and 'reflexive-like' behaviors, with special reference to elimination behavior in cattle" characterizes the neurophysiological basis of excretion behavior in mammals and possible learning processes that can be developed especially in cattle to control their behavior with regard to the use of a latrine in the barn.
Typically, cattle urinate and defecate with little or no control over their excretion behaviour, with negative consequences for the environment and the animals themselves. The resulting harmful ammonia emissions could be significantly reduced by using a latrine and separating faeces and urine. The presented overview study concludes that associative learning methods such as operant conditioning should enable successful latrine training in cattle. The practical implementation of this approach in a pilot project is currently being investigated at FBN with the above-mentioned partners in a project funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.
Original article is available online:
Dirksen, N., Langbein, J., Matthews, L., Puppe, B., Elliffe, D., & Schrader, L. (2020). Conditionability of 'voluntary' and 'reflexive-like' behaviors, with special reference to elimination behavior in cattle. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 115, 5-12. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.05.006
 
Fig (FBN/nordlicht): Calf enters the latrine to urinate.

 


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