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Idle Science

Can You Potty Train a Cow? 214

Posted by samzenpus
from the we're-going-to-need-a-bigger-diaper dept.
sciencehabit writes "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, creating big hygiene problems on dairy and beef farms. 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, 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."
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Can You Potty Train a Cow?

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  • Apparently not. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Friday February 15, 2013 @04:01AM (#42907699) Homepage

    I love when the headline question is answered right there in the summary.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Change the topic to Ask Slashdot, and let's see if we can figure this out! My recommendation is to try cow hypnosis.

    • but they go there anyway. So I trained the dogs to only chase the chickens when they go on the deck and pool. That works pretty good if the dogs are outside. One of the chickens flew out of the back yard the other day and a big crow cornered her in a hydrangea at the front of the house. I came to see what all the commotion was and scared the crow away. The chicken waddled behind me into the back yard and she hasn't flown out since.
    • And the girls asks "So what do you do for a living?" ...
    • Maybe if the researchers had a serious talk with the cows, and explained that they wouldn't get to wear big-cow underpants until they used the cow-potty properly, they would have better results. Pointing out that their cow-peers were wearing big-cow underpants can be an effective peer-pressure motivation. Also, there's generally a cow-kindergarden prohibition if cows can't use the cow-potty by themselves. And they do want to go to cow-kindergarden, right?

      Offering pop-culture stylized big-cow underpants
    • by adisakp (705706)

      I love when the headline question is answered right there in the summary.

      Actually there is a way to make a cow poop if you follow links to the actual abstract:

      None of our tests reliably stimulated defecation, which seemed to occur most when cows were exposed to novelty. [elsevierhealth.com]

      Basically, cows poop when they see something new, Unfortunately, showing them something over and over becomes "old" pretty quickly. Fresh material stimulates the production of "fresh material" from cows.

      • by adisakp (705706)

        None of our tests reliably stimulated defecation, which seemed to occur most when cows were exposed to novelty.

        That is unless I mistook the meaning of the word "novelty" and that things like glasses with a built in moustache will make a cow do-a-doody.

    • by Type44Q (1233630)
      Sure you can; it'd just take a big fucking toilet...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 15, 2013 @04:04AM (#42907711)

    Ladies and gentlemen: Slashdot in 2013.

  • From the summary: [quote]The bovines can defecate nine to 16 times daily, creating big hygiene problems on dairy and beef farms[/quote]

    Farmers are interested in two things above all the rest: costs and production. So my guess is that it's not about hygiene, but about lowering costs. Although mildly interesting from a science point of view, this research is of course mainly to lower costs and then I think to myself: divine bovine, please shit where you stand.

    • by PybusJ (30549)

      If poor hygiene causes disease then farmers care about. Disease means higher veterinary bills, and poorer quality animals worth less at the end. Obviously, if fixing the hygiene problem costs more than the gain in efficiency is worth then the high intensity farmers will let the cattle stand around in shit.

      It seems to me that if you want the cows to shit themselves, all you'd need to do is show them a video of what awaits them at the end of their life.

    • Farmers have to deal with all that shit. You're nuts if you think they wouldn't love to have a nice partitioned manure field and clean stalls.

    • by Andrio (2580551)
      In the book called "The Omnivore's Dilemma" the author details (among other things) his stay at a farm called "Polyface Farms."

      You'd think it to just be common sense, but at this farm the cows eat the grass, then poop on the ground (thus fertilizing it), and are then moved to another grassy area, where the process repeats while the previously consumed grass gets to grow back. Chickens are then passed through, feeding on the various insects that now populate the field due to the cow poop. The whole thing ind
  • A friend of mine often took her parrot on her finger and shook her hand to make it poo.
    • by deimtee (762122)
      Parrots can be trained to shit on command, or to fly to specific spot to shit. But they are probably smarter than cows.
      • by lxs (131946)

        One blindly does what you tell it to, the other ignores the human and does whatever it likes. Now which one is smarter?

        • Cows are evil geniuses when it comes to 'getting back' at humans for keeping them chained up. They'll kick their own shit across the entire barn with pinpoint accuracy as soon as there is something there that you really don't want to get dirty.

  • by Eightbitgnosis (1571875) on Friday February 15, 2013 @04:32AM (#42907837) Homepage
    There is no way in hell a cow is going to poop in a specific place. They crap everywhere, constantly. It's just their response to most events.

    Many a time a cow raised its posture, stared me directly in the eyes, and then crapped itself with a defiant glare.
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Friday February 15, 2013 @04:38AM (#42907871)
    No shit Sherlock
  • This research smells like a future Ig Nobel:
    http://www.improbable.com/ig/ [improbable.com]

  • You can imagine why. It takes a lot of time with intelligent beings, aka toddlers. It will very likely take much more with cows.
    Maybe cow napkins can help, just like they use to do with horses involved in parades!
  • What training? (Score:4, Informative)

    by KC1P (907742) on Friday February 15, 2013 @04:56AM (#42907981) Homepage

    From the abstract, it sounds as if they made no attempt at all to train the cows -- they were just seeing what would stimulate a cow to poop with no training at all. Or, they were seeing what's the least that counts as a master's thesis! A much more interesting question.

    • by azalin (67640)
      Training is time consuming, expensive and needs to be taught to every single cow. A automated process could provide a cost saving mechanism - a training program probably not. It might be interesting for your pet cow Betsy though.
  • Seems like the obvious solution would involve herding them into the right place and then have a portly Texan setup a BBQ in front.. or maybe that bengal tiger from Life of Pi would do the trick.

    Not sure how it would affect milk yields though.

  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Friday February 15, 2013 @05:12AM (#42908029)
    Speaking of cows I need a Red Bull. Okay to answer their question before they wasted the time, no it can't be done for a simple reason. Grazing animals are hardwired to go at will. Notice how pet animals tend to be animals that have dens or burrows? Evolution has adapted them to this condition so they go in one location so they don't soil their dens. Predators have the same ability even when they don't den. Primates do it as well probably because of tree dwelling origins. Evacuating bowels requires muscles that in upright animals is used in locomotion as well as four legged animals on the move as in stalking prey. Notice horses don't go a gallop. I guess you could keep the cows on a treadmill but it would cause severe problems if they kept it up too long. I'm sure over thousands of years they could adapt but it's a waste of time. Let them roam in a field they way they were adapted to live. They'll perfect engineered meat and milk long before you could adapt a cow. I even managed in my caffeine deprived state to get it back onto a Slashdot subject, engineered meat. That's the real solution to the waste problem not teaching cows to cross their legs.
    • by sa1lnr (669048)

      "Notice how pet animals tend to be animals that have dens or burrows?"

      What does that say about mothers and their basements?

    • Evacuating bowels requires muscles that in upright animals is used in locomotion as well as four legged animals on the move as in stalking prey.

      This doesn't explain why you can fart whilst running for a bus... Cracks me up every time.

    • by PortHaven (242123)

      I wonder if Red Bull would make them defecate?

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Let them roam in a field they way they were adapted to live. They'll perfect engineered meat and milk long before you could adapt a cow.

      Or we could tear down fences and install more Bison, and let them roam free. Then when you wanted some meat you could just plug one. As a "side" benefit they will help extend grasslands.

    • I learned from a friend who read a book (true story), that a good portion of the USA's greenhouse gases are from raising cattle. But it doesn't HAVE to be that way -- the cows are releasing a lot of methane because they have a hard time digesting the food industrial farms give them; corn.

      Since the corn tears up their stomachs, they are given antibiotics. Another factoid is that if they weren't slaughtered in 2 years, they'd probably die anyway from the ravages of their diet. But that works out conveniently,

    • by div_2n (525075)

      A treadmill wouldn't work forever. Dogs if left on a treadmill long enough and they have to go bad enough WILL soil themselves WHILE running. I would imagine horses and cows are the same.

  • by bickerdyke (670000) on Friday February 15, 2013 @05:13AM (#42908037)

    Do cows have any control over their droppings at all? IIRC they do not have a sphincter that could be controlled consciously. Isn't it more like it comes out simply according to the cows bowel movements?

  • by Spugglefink (1041680) on Friday February 15, 2013 @05:27AM (#42908123)

    I lost any respect I ever might have had for bovine kind when I witnessed the miracle of life one day. A newborn calf so fresh it was still wet stumbled gingerly up to Momma, looking for a teat to suck.

    The calf approached from the rear, and right as it got in range, BLAAAAAAAAAAAAT!!! Moma took a huge steaming crap right on widdle baby's head.

    It was OK though. While the crap was still dribbling out, she unleashed a fire hose of urine right in the calf's face and washed most of the crap off. Momma cows care, people. Momma cows care!

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      Not sure which is more disturbing; your story, or the fact you continued to watch after the huge steaming pile of crap part.
      • Not sure which is more disturbing; your story, or the fact you continued to watch after the huge steaming pile of crap part.

        Let the record show that I was in the process of shimmying my way out of a narrow cave opening at the time, and I had to wait for the cows to get out of my way so I could pull myself out. I was kind of a captive audience at the time.

        Ah, youth.

    • by Cederic (9623)

      Of course she cared. Her very first lesson for the new child: Always approach from the side.

    • by Barryke (772876)

      This happens people. Also, cows lick their newborns for an hour or so. Interestingly, they''ll only lick poo once unless you put a birthday candle in them which triggers the quite interesting curious cow reaction.

      • by azalin (67640)
        I know I should probably not ask, but birthday candle? (No, I will not Google for this)
    • by MrKaos (858439)

      While the crap was still dribbling out, she unleashed a fire hose of

      A friend of mine and I witnessed a 'bitch driver', in her convertible, swerving, dodging, cutting off and generally annoying people in heavy traffic come to a stop trapped right beside a cattle truck where a cow unleashed a similar fire hose of urine right onto said driver.

      The tears of laughter from us and other drivers at her inability to escape the situation incapacitated us for some time after.

      thanks for the reminder.

    • May not have been voluntary at all you know, the same thing happens with human birth sometimes...

  • The farm waste from cows, pigs and chicken, can be a very serious partial solution in switching over to renewable energy sources. America has 100 million cows. Once I calculated something like 6 cows can produce enough natural gas to keep one car going, i,e they produce enough natural gas to run a car for some 15000 miles in one year.

    The methane is odorless, the smell comes from other chemicals and bacteria, By covering the waste to capture methane you would also reduce odor pollution too.

    Once the metha

    • by azalin (67640)
      Well as the Romans already stated: "non olet", [Money] doesn't smell.
    • The hydraulic fracking breakthrough has dropped the price of natural gas so low, now it is not worth capturing methane to sell off.

      They vent methane into the atmosphere? 8-(

      Please tell me they at least flare it off and don't release it unburned...

      • No, the methane is not concentrated enough to burn off. The waste is collected into ponds that stink up the atmosphere for a mile or so. Methane and noxious gases go straight into atmosphere. That methane is a serious contributor to greenhouse gases. Methane is 100 times worse than CO2, molecule for molecule. Still any talk about that usually degenerates into cartoons of white coated scientists running around with glasses to capture cow farts in an open field filled with laughing farmers and the cows with b
  • each walking from pasture to their own little barn.

    I'm sure it's just a matter of time before these cows master pottying (as cats can use toilets).

    Shocking them, however, isn't the way... Maybe import some good Swiss cow trainers...?

  • If they can make a camera that looks like elephant dung (Elephants - Spy in the Herd` 2003) and machines that mow the lawn.

    How difficult can it be do make a robot that runs around the prairie scooping up cowshit automatically?

    really? potty train cows, or build a machine to scoop shit...

    hell, considering what you could get the costs down to, implant a sensor on each cows ass that detects a fecal event, and spits out the gps location-- per unit you could likely get them down to less than $100 per cow, it w

  • You should see what I went through with Eric, my fish.
  • by Richard_J_N (631241) on Friday February 15, 2013 @11:43AM (#42911635)

    If we can take grain + yeast and get beer, then why can't we design a yeast-variant that produces milk? After all, grass and wheat are very similar.
    Of course we might not get all the complex proteins and enzymes required to make good cheese - but it should be possible to get a perfectly decent product for putting in coffee, making ice-cream, and pouring over cereal. A cow is a terribly inefficient way to convert grass into milk - we should be able to do better.

  • by CosaNostra Pizza Inc (1299163) on Friday February 15, 2013 @12:18PM (#42912109)
    This story is total bullshit, if you ask me.
  • by gurudyne (126096) on Friday February 15, 2013 @12:51PM (#42912627)

    Never stand behind a coughing cow.

  • From the paper's abstract

    "None of our tests reliably stimulated defecation, which seemed to occur most when cows were exposed to novelty."

    Going to www.novelties.com redirects to www.bobbleheads.com, so we can only conclude that the study needs more bobbleheads (it has enough cowbell, I think).

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