• David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.

ScienceShot: Can You Potty Train a Cow?

13 February 2013 4:20 pm


Think potty training a child is hard? Try teaching a cow when and where to do its business. The bovines can defecate nine to 16 times daily, and pee seven to nine times, creating big hygiene problems on dairy and beef farms, Canadian researchers report this week in Applied Animal Behaviour Science. So cueing the animals to go in the right place would be a big help for managing manure. But past techniques—including training cows to respond to mild electric shocks—have proven ineffective or impractical for wide use. To see if they could come up with a better potty prompt, the scientists tested a series of stimuli on a dozen Holstein cows. The milkers stood in or walked through a footbath filled with water, for example, or had air or water sprayed on their feet. Alas, "[n]one of our tests reliably stimulated defecation," the team reports. Maybe bovine diapers instead?

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