In an article (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2021.07.011) published on 13 September in the journal Current Biology, researchers at the Institute of Behavioural Physiology at the FBN, the University of Auckland and the FLI for Animal Welfare and Husbandry Celle show how cows can be trained to pass their urine only in certain places in the barn. This way, the excreta can be collected and treated and, most importantly, emissions can be reduced.
"Normally it is assumed that cattle are not able to control their defecation or urination," says Dr Jan Langbein from the Institute of Behavioural Physiology (FBN), "Cattle, like many other animals or farm animals, are quite intelligent and capable of learning. Why shouldn't they also be able to learn how to use a toilet?"
Training took place in latrines specially built for calves. Urination outside the latrine was punished with a short shower, whereas in the latrine they were rewarded after urination. "You have to try to involve the animals in the process," explains Dr Langbein.
Over the course of a few weeks, the research team successfully trained 11 of the 16 calves. Remarkably, the calves showed a level of performance comparable to that of children and superior to that of very young children.
Langbein is optimistic that this success rate can be further improved with more training. "After ten, fifteen, twenty years of research with cattle, we know that animals have their own personalities and deal with different things in different ways. They are not all the same."
The research results are to be transferred into practice in cattle barns and on outdoor farms, where they will both improve barn cleanliness and thus reduce the risk of infection for the animals and also reduce the emissions that are produced.