Dutch firm to test ‘cow toilets’ to cut farm ammonia emissions

It seems potty enough to be an early April Fool’s Day escapade, but a Dutch inventor has created an innovative ‘cow toilet’ with the aim of saving the environment – and he hopes that, someday, it will be on all commercial dairy farms.

Cows can voluntarily enter the fenced-off area to use the machine, thus allowing a bucket-style contraption to automatically swing into place while they urinate.

Dairy technology firm Hanskamp has been working on the invention – dubbed ‘CowToilet’ – for around two years. It is currently being tested in conjunction with a university in the Netherlands.

Hanskamp UK and Ireland manager Lars van Gaalen said: “No, this is not a joke. But because we are still researching this we have still a lot of questions which are unanswered.

“We are 90% there in terms of the design and what we want to achieve but we realise that the last 10% will probably take 90% of the time.

“The idea is that we would like to get people thinking along with us. As a company, we are always looking for ways to make farming easier.

We see a lot of benefits for the farmers and the cows. For example, because the urine is taken away the cow is not standing in it breathing it in, so there are benefits for the cow’s health.

But it’s likely to be a while before you will see cow toilets appearing on any UK farms. At this point, it’s hoped the first models will be released for sale by mid-2020.

The rationale behind the system is based on the fact that the cow’s urine is collected separately.

By ensuring that the urine does not end up with the solid manure, there is considerably less ammonia emission, addressing the problem right at the source.

How it works

The cow enters the gated feeding area. While the cow is eating, a small bucket automatically swings into place at the back of the cow, moving gently upwards and downwards, massaging her escutcheon – a nerve which stretches between the cow’s vulva and udder.

This nerve triggers the urine reflex, causing the cow to urinate. The urine is collected in the CowToilet reservoir and is then extracted and stored separately.

Ammonia has become a major issue in the UK and Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the issue has become so bad that planning for several major farm infrastructure projects has been stalled while the department and researchers come up with ways to lower emissions.

What happens to the urine afterwards?

The creators say that pure urine can be used as a high-quality raw material in, for example, precision fertilisation to provide urea.

There are developments in which urine can supposedly be used to generate ‘yellow’ electricity. Alternatively, urine can serve as a source of hydrogen.

And just so you can see for yourself, here’s a video (although, you may need a translator to fully appreciate it).