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New ‘cow toilets’ could help reduce emissions from livestock

You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but it turns out you can train a cow to use a litter box.

Henk Hanskamp, a Dutch inventor and businessman, has developed a “cow toilet” that collects cow urine, and it’s an innovative device that could help limit the amount of ammonia that enters the environment from farms.

A single cow toilet collects around 26 to 35 pints of cow pee from a single cow every day, and according to Hanscamp, his inventions could cut the amount of ammonia emissions produced by cows by half.

Since cow ammonia emissions account for around 49 percent of all ammonia emissions from agriculture, finding ways to tackle ammonia and other cattle-specific emissions is crucial to agriculture sustainability and mitigating atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Cows and other livestock are not the only sources of ammonia emissions, but high concentrations of ammonia are dangerous to human health and wellbeing.

Ammonia has been linked to haze and eutrophication which is when water is enriched with nutrients from agricultural and waste runoff and causes dangerous algae blooms. When algae blooms occur, it limits the amount of oxygen for other aquatic species.

Hanskamp hopes to have the cow toilet market ready by 2020, but as of now, the device is being tested in farms in the Netherlands.

“We are tackling the problem at the source,” Hanskamp told the Agence France-Presse. “A cow is never going to be completely clean, but you can teach them to go to the toilet.”

The device is a box that is placed behind the cow during feeding. After the cow is done eating, the device stimulates a nerve that causes the cow to urinate. However, some of the cows have become so well trained and used to the litter box that they urinate without having their nerve stimulated.

Besides limiting emissions, Hamskamp also says that the device helps keep cowpens clean and dry.

In the US last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a drug called Experior which, when fed to beef cattle, reduces the number of ammonia emissions from the animal’s waste.

The drug has been deemed safe by the FDA, but if Hanskamp’s litter box method proves successful and becomes available to international markets, it might be an easier and less invasive way to get the same desirable results without drug intervention.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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