How To Toilet-train Your Cow
How To Toilet-train Your Cow

How To Toilet-train Your Cow

6 mins read

THE three main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide also known as laughing gas. Cows amongst the animals (not including man!) are the greatest environmental pollutants. A single cow can produce about 220 pounds of methane a year! Methane traps more heat than carbon dioxide, about 30 times more, thus significantly contributing to global warming. The good news is that methane has a half-life of only ca. ten years compared to carbon dioxide, which lasts for ca. a hundred years (half-life means the period it takes for a substance to decay or be reduced to half the original quantity).

Ammonia found in urine when leached into the soil is oxidised (converted) to nitrous oxide by microorganisms. The oxidation process consumes oxygen with the accumulation of nitrous oxide, N₂O, a greenhouse gas with a half-life of over a hundred years. The use of fertilisers in farming also generates ammonia and upon oxidation gives rise to nitrous oxide. But livestock contributes about half of the nitrous oxide emission.

Cows not only contribute to global warming by their urines, farts and belches but also to the contamination of streams and rivers by their indiscriminate defecation. Given these “antisocial behaviours” as enumerated above, wouldn’t it be sensible and environmentally cost-effective to potty-train cows?

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Well, scientists from Germany agreed so. Writing in the journal, Current Biology, they reported having used a method called the MooLoo approach to toilet-train calves into urinating in a designated area so that the urines could be collected and treated. Notice the funny name of the method, MooLoo? Moo as in sound cows make, and Loo as in toilet!

In the first phase of the training, called the “in-latrine Training”, the calves were restricted to a particular area and each time they voided their bladder, they were rewarded with food. The essence of this first phase of the training programme was to familiarise the calves with the designated toilet area and the benefits attached to toileting. This orientation programme was successful in 10 out of the 16 calves.

The second phase of the training called, “toileting training” assesses “self-initiation and self-control” of urination in order to demonstrate that cows are capable of attending and responding to internal signals – in other words, that cows are capable of controlling their bladder. All the 16 calves progressed to this second phase, including those who failed the first phase of the training. This second training was essentially a “carrot-and-stick” approach by which those calves who urinated in the designated area were rewarded with a sweet drink or mashed barley, and the dumb ones urinating elsewhere were punished with a short blast of water from lawn sprinklers.

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The final graduating class called, “toileting+training”, assesses “self-control of voiding reflexes over extended distances”. In simple terms, the calves were being tested for continence. In this regard, the area outside the toilet was increased so that cows had to walk a longer distance before toileting. In this final training, 10 out of the 11 calves who passed the second training (toileting training), were successful and were able to consistently use the toilet.

In summary, out of the 16 calves “pupils”, 10 passed with distinction, 1 had an ordinary pass, and 5 failed! This goes to show that even in the animal world, there is always some pupils who fail their exams. Reminds one of school, eh? Not to worry, not every cow is an Einstein. The researchers are planning to start phase four of the programme. They plan to teach the cows to defecate in a designated area instead of just “crapping” everywhere. And I bet, the ten “intelligent” calves, including the one with a pass, would form the vanguard of the training, while the “five dunces” will just have to repeat their training in “proper urination technique.” Once these elementary decencies are accomplished, cows will have to be taught to at least cover their posterior regions with nappies or clothes and spare us the sight of their anatomies and mammary organs flapping about and the sound of their behind emitting farts like they have a patent to flatulence!

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The date for the graduation ceremony is yet to be announced, but as soon as the date becomes available, your invitation for the occasion will be sent through the post! 😂😂😂

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Dr Gabriel Uguru
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