Cow toilet is not as far-fetched as it sounds. In fact, Dutch inventors are already testing out an innovative bovine urinal in an attempt to reduce the country's ammonia emissions.
An average cow produces four to five gallons (15 to 20 liters) of urine every day. If these cows can be trained to use a urinal, not only can it spell a big difference in farm hygiene and maintenance, but it can also make a huge impact on the environment.
After all, Netherlands emits high amounts of ammonia as the world's second biggest agricultural exporter.
"We are tackling the problem at the source," Henk Hanskamp, the Dutch inventor behind the toilet, explains to AFP. "A cow is never going to be completely clean but you can teach them to go to the toilet."
'Cow Toilet' Shows Promise During Testing
The cow toilet is simple and straight-forward, with the urinal placed in a box behind the cow. A feeding trough is placed in front of the cow. After the animal has finished eating, a robot arm triggers a nerve by the udders to stimulate the cow's need to urinate.
Tests for the toilet are ongoing in the town of Doetinchem in Netherlands, where seven out of 58 cows have already been trained to use their new toilets without stimulation.
Hanskamp says that these animals have already gotten used to the urinals.
"They recognise the box, lift their tail, and pee," he recalls.
Such technology is making the cow's surroundings cleaner and the ground drier. Veterinarian Jan Velema, who participated in the testing, explains that dry ground is also better for the hooves of the animals.
The cow toilet is expected to be available on the market by 2020, according to Hanskamp. If successful, he says, the toilet could decrease ammonia production by at least half.
Nitrogen in animal waste as well as fertilizer can turn into gaseous ammonia, according to a report from Ensia. Three-fourths of the total ammonia emissions in the United States and Canada come from agriculture.
This has an alarming effect on the public's health.
When ammonia gets into the atmosphere, it combines with other compounds in the air and forms particulate matter called PM2.5. PM2.5 poses a great danger to the health when it infiltrates the lungs and gets into the bloodstream. WHO estimates that air pollution kills 7 million people worldwide every year.
Large amounts of ammonia also has a negative impact on aquatic life and plants, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.