Don’t take the cow, man. Cattle can learn to use the toilet, and that’s for a good reason.
Kittens can be trained to use the litter box, and puppies learn to do their business outside (some better than others). So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that calves can be potty-trained, too. And he’s not a bull.
“It is generally believed that cattle are not able to control defecation or urination,” says animal psychologist Jan Langbein, who co-authored a study published Monday in the journal Current Biology. “Cattle, like many other animals or farm animals, are quite smart and can learn a lot. Why shouldn’t they learn to use the toilet?”
It sounds crazy to teach cattle to pee—imagine a black-and-white Holstein sitting in a potty chair—but there’s a good reason to do so, and it’s not just to keep your pasture pristine. Cow urine has a high nitrogen content, and breaks down into nitrates and nitrous oxide. Nitrate pollutes nearby bodies of water and nitrous oxide is a long-lived greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
So a group of scientists from the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology and the University of Auckland set out to teach calves to urinate only in one place where their urine could be treated and before there was a problem.
It’s not a toilet, of course. The researchers are using the term toilet instead—and it’s not an army toilet, it’s a distinctive fenced-off area lined with artificial grass, which the researchers dubbed “mulu.” But 11 out of 16 calves in the program learned to use the toilet area within weeks.
How did the researchers get the cows to use Mulu? First, they used vibration collars to teach the cows to walk a short distance to the bright green toilet area, and if they urinated there they were given treats (sheera). Then he increased the distance from the toilet. If a cow starts urinating in the wrong place, scientists used the same technique many pet owners use to keep their dogs and cats off the couch—when they start urinating in the wrong area. If they do, they squeeze the animals with cold water. The water doesn’t harm the calves, but it bothers them just as a cat in the house would with socks.
Training lasted 15 days, and most calves learned within 20 to 25 urinations. The report says that toilet-training times for 3 and 4 year olds compare favorably.
Study co-author Lindsey Matthews told ABC that the team only trained cows to use mulu to urinate, not to defecate, adding that urine is a bigger problem. But Matthews predicted they could use the same technique to teach the calves to move to number 2 in a designated area, so stay tuned. Maybe the next one will be Poomulu.