The Dutch are renowned for inventing some real wacky equipment for livestock. But the latest has left farmers feeling a bit “flushed.”
The innovative company Hanskamp, based in Doetinchem, has developed a cow toilet that collects urine in an effort to reduce ammonia. Designed primarily to ease the ever-increasing regulations on the dairy industry, the CowToilet is an automatic urinal that cows use voluntarily and is designed to collect urine before it hits the floor.
About 90 percent of ammonia emissions come from agriculture, according to Wageningen University and Research in The Netherlands. Excess ammonia emissions are a big deal in Europe; there are national limits in force aimed to reduce gases. In an effort to limit ammonia emissions from the agricultural sector, dairy farmers in Europe are forced to pay big fees to meet ammonia-emission and manure-disposal requirements.
When manure and urine mix, ammonia is formed. If released into the air it can precipitate in nature, causing large amounts of nitrogen to land on the ground. Plants can only process up to a certain amount of nitrogen. The remaining amount acidifies the soil and affects the groundwater. High concentrations of ammonia are harmful to humans and animals.
Cows have a natural nerve reflex just above the udder that when rubbed causes them to immediately urinate. Hanskamp developed the CowToilet to automate that long-known technique to make a cow urinate.
The CowToilet is placed against the cow’s suspensory ligament and moves in unison with the cow. The technique locates the nerve. Once located it’s stimulated, which triggers the urinary reflex and the cow starts urinating.
The urine is collected in the CowToilet container and extracted through a suction line into a separate storage tank. Cows go to and use the CowToilet voluntarily because each visit to the toilet is combined with the animals receiving their daily portion of feed.
Because most of the urine is collected there’s a significant reduction in ammonia emissions. And that’s good for both the environment and animal welfare, as well as providing a healthier climate in the shed.
The CowToilet also offers economic advantages because it saves on manure-storage costs and may even be an alternative to ammonia-emission-reducing floors. As a welcome sideline using the CowToilet may even provide some income. Pure urine can be used as an excellent-quality raw material in products like precision fertilization. There are also ongoing developments in which urine is used to generate “yellow” – a source of hydrogen.
The first CowToilets are expected to be available in mid-2020.