This was discovered by a team of researchers who applied the principles of behavioral psychology to teach cattle where to pee: “This is a hitherto unexplored opportunity that can help us solve problems related to environmental pollution without compromising the well-being of animals. animals”.
Is it possible to teach cows where to pee? The answer is yes, as demonstrated by a team of researchers from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, who, as part of a project involving scholars from the German Institutes for Animal Health and Biology of Farm Animals, he managed to train some cattle to urinate in special spaces used as a “toilet”. With all the benefits that could derive from this type of training, including the potential solution of problems related to environmental pollution up to climate change.
This is because, the researchers explain, when cows are raised primarily outdoors, such as in New Zealand and Australia, the nitrogen contained in their urine decomposes in the soil, producing two problematic substances: nitrate and nitrous oxide. “Nitrate pollutes the waters of lakes, rivers and aquifers, contributing to the overgrowth of algae and weeds, while nitrous oxide is 300 times more powerful greenhouse gas carbon dioxide”The scholars specify in an article on The Conversation – . In Europe and North America, where cows are raised mainly in stables, the problem is represented by another polluting gas, ammonia, which is produced when nitrogen from urine mixes with animal feces”.
To limit the impact of farms, whether in the open or in the barn, it is therefore necessary to try to collect the urine of the animals. “We worked on this, applying the principles of behavioral psychology to train cattle to urinate in a specific place, or to go ‘to the bathroom’“Added the scholars, who used the” reward “technique to teach animals to control the urge to urinate and to reach the place used as a latrine, just as it is done when, for example, a dog is trained to perform certain tasks, such as catching a ball or jumping an obstacle.
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In the case of cattle, the training provided for a procedure called “backward chaining“: In a first phase, the cattle – 16 calves divided into two groups of 8 each – were placed in the latrine and” rewarded “with their favorite food when they urinated. Later, they were moved out of this area, and helped with the reward to enter the latrine space to urinate. “If urination started along the way, it was discouraged with a spray of water with a slightly unpleasant odor “.
The training, which lasted a total of 15 days, was described in detail in a study published in Current Biology, and has already given results after 15-20 urinations for most cattle. “Our results reveal an opportunity not yet explored, that is, to exploit the cognitive abilities of animals to help solve urgent environmental problems without compromising their well-being – conclude the authors of the research -. Furthermore, by reducing the contamination of the areas where animals live, it is possible to improve the cleanliness, hygiene and well-being of livestock, at the same time reducing environmental pollution. Thus, animal intelligence can help us solve the climate crisis”.