"Can we toilet train cattle? Would we want to?
The answer to both of these questions is yes — and doing so could help us
address issues of water contamination and climate change. Cattle urine is high
in nitrogen, and this contributes to a range of environmental problems.
When cows are kept mainly outdoors, as they are in New Zealand and Australia,
the nitrogen from their urine breaks down in the soil. This produces two
problematic substances: nitrate and nitrous oxide.
Nitrate from urine patches leaches into lakes, rivers and aquifers (underground
pools of water contained by rock) where it pollutes the water and contributes
to the excessive growth of weeds and algae.
Nitrous oxide is a long-lasting greenhouse gas which is 300 times more potent
than carbon dioxide. It accounts for about 12% of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas
emissions, and much of this comes from the agricultural sector.
When cows are kept mainly in barns, as is the case in Europe and North America,
another polluting gas — ammonia — is produced when the nitrogen from urine
mixes with faeces on the barn floor.
However, if some of the urine produced by cattle could be captured and treated,
the nitrogen it contains could be diverted, and the environmental impacts
reduced. But how might urine capture be achieved?
We worked on this problem with collaborators from Germany’s Federal Research
Institute for Animal Health and Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology. Our
research is published today in the journal Current Biology
. It forms part of
our colleague Neele Dirksen’s PhD thesis."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics