This achievement is the result of 14 years of learning by trial and error.
Researcher Lindsey Matthews admits that the idea of toilet training cows to collect and process their urine came to her when he was interviewed on the radio in 2007 and made a joke about it.
Together with colleagues in Germany, the New Zealand scientists used food as a reward to train 16 calves to urinate into the toilet pen, ensuring that results were similar to those expected from a three-year-old.
The study published in the journal current biology (A new window) (in English), brings
proof of concept About the possibility of teaching a cow to urinate in the toilet, believes Douglas Elafe, of the University of Auckland.
The challenge is to change the scale, train large herds and adapt the principle to environments like New Zealand, where the animals spend more time outdoors than barns.
Managing nitrogen-rich bovine urine can have real long-term benefits for the climate by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
If we could collect 10% or 20% of urine, that would be enough to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and nitrate leaching.
The scientist explains that nitrogen in cow urine degrades over time into two problematic substances: nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, and nitrate, which builds up in the soil and then seeps into rivers and streams.
Nitrous oxide accounts for about 5% of greenhouse gas emissions and just under 10% of New Zealand’s emissions, according to official figures, more than half of which is associated with livestock.
Agriculture is responsible for about half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, mainly in the form of methane and nitrous oxide.
Unusually for developed countries, methane accounts for 43.5% of a country’s emissions, roughly equaling the amount of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, which is explained by an economy largely dependent on agriculture.
The South Pacific nation has several research projects exploring possible solutions, such as raising livestock that emit low methane emissions, using animal feeds that reduce emissions, or even vaccinating animals so that they produce less harmful gases.
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