Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - No bull! Climate researchers 'potty train' peeing cows

No bull! Climate researchers 'potty train' peeing cows

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Lindsay Matthews is on a team of researchers that say capturing and treating cow urine could have long-term climate benefits. AFP

No bull! Climate researchers 'potty train' peeing cows

Scientists say they have successfully "potty trained" cows to urinate in a designated toilet area as part of a programme aimed at slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

The team of New Zealand and German researchers admitted the idea began as a joke but said dealing with cows' nitrogen-rich liquid waste could have genuine long-term climate benefits.

"If we could collect 10 or 20 percent of urinations, it would be sufficient to reduce greenhouse gas emission and nitrate leaching significantly," Auckland University's Douglas Elliffe said.

Elliffe said the nitrogen in cow pee broke down into two problem substances over time – nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, and nitrate, which collects in soil then leaches into rivers and streams.

Nitrous oxide accounts for about five percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and just under 10 percent of New Zealand's total, according to official data, with more than half linked to livestock.

Researcher Lindsay Matthews said that the idea of toilet training cows so their urine could be captured and treated first occurred to him when a radio host was interviewing him in 2007 and made a throwaway joke on the matter.

"People's reaction is 'crazy scientists' but actually the building blocks are there," he said.

Working with colleagues in Germany, the scientists used food rewards to train 16 calves to urinate in a latrine pen, saying the results were similar to those you would expect from a three-year-old child.

Elliffe said the research, published this week in the journal Current Biology, provided "proof of concept" that toilet training cows was possible.

He said the challenge was to upscale the concept to train large herds and adapt it for cows in environments such as New Zealand, where the animals live outdoors rather than spending most of their time in barns.

Farming creates about half of New Zealand's greenhouse emissions, mostly in the form of methane and nitrous oxide.

Unusually for a developed nation, New Zealand's farm-reliant economy means methane accounts for about 43.5 percent of the country's emissions, almost equal to the amount of carbon dioxide generated by sources such as fossil fuels.

The South Pacific country has numerous research projects examining possible solutions, such as breeding low-methane emitting livestock, using feeds that reduce emissions and even vaccinating animals so they produce less harmful gases.


  • Hun Sen: Full country reopening to be decided in two weeks

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that if the Covid-19 situation remains stable for 15 consecutive days from the end of the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, Cambodia will reopen fully, albeit in the context of Covid-19 whereby people have to adjust their lives to

  • Cambodia sets new Covid-19 quarantine rules

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Will Evergrande change the way Chinese developers do business in Cambodia?

    China’s property sector policy has exposed the grim financial condition of real estate developers including those operating in Cambodia, which raises questions over the viability of their projects and business going forward The dark blue netting draping over one of Yuetai Group Co Ltd’

  • Phnom Penh governor: Show Covid-19 vaccination cards, or else

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng late on October 5 issued a directive requiring all people aged 18 and over and the parents of children aged 6-17 to produce Covid-19 vaccination cards when entering schools, markets, malls, marts, eateries and other business establishments that have been permitted

  • Cambodia seeks probe into 'false reports' on Hun Sen's alleged Cypriot passport

    Minister of Justice Koeut Rith on September 6 wrote a letter to his Cypriot counterpart Stephie Dracos requesting cooperation in investigating and providing the truth in relation to the "exaggerative and false allegations" that Prime Minister Hun Sen holds a Cypriot passport. In his letter, the

  • 'Pandora Papers' expose leaders' offshore millions

    More than a dozen heads of state and government, from Jordan to Azerbaijan, Kenya and the Czech Republic, have used offshore tax havens to hide assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a far-reaching new investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (