CowToilet is Coming to a Farm Near You
It may sound like the title of a middle-school science fair project, but the CowToilet is a real invention, and may soon be operating on commercial dairies around the world.
Invented and marketed by Hanskamp AgroTech BV in the Netherlands, the CowToilet is mounted in a customized, free-access feed cubicle that can be placed in virtually any dairy barn.
When cows enter the cubicle and enjoy a portion of pelleted feed, the CowToilet rubs against the suspensory ligament of their udder, stimulating a natural nerve reflex that causes them to urinate, as demonstrated in this video. The urine is collected in the CowToilet receptacle, removed by suction, and transported to an air-tight storage silo.
The invention passed the muster of the German Agricultural Society’s DLG Innovation Society, an independent expert jury that awarded CowToilet the only Gold Innovation Award at the 2021 EuroTier, a massive animal agriculture trade show held every two years in Hannover, Germany.
Keeping urine and manure separated is a major fete with multiple benefits. When the two combine, they volatilize into gaseous ammonia. This causes problems with on-farm air quality. Plus, ammonia has been implicated in promoting smog formation, acidifying soils, and damaging watersheds.
The Dutch dairy industry is particularly intent on reducing ammonia emissions, after a 2019 United Nations report declared that livestock production was responsible for 90 percent of ammonia emissions. Subsequently, Dutch government officials controversially called for cutting the entire Dutch livestock population in half.
Dutch dairy producers who have utilized experimental prototypes of the CowToilet report the barn environment is less messy; air quality is improved; and cows’ hooves stay drier. While cows do continue to urinate elsewhere, Hanskamp reports that CowToilet captures about 50 percent of the 15 to 20 liters (3.75 to 5 gallons) of urine that is produced per mature dairy cow each day.
As more urine is collected, potential exists for value-added applications of it, some of which could create additional revenue streams for producers. Pure urine is high in nitrogen and potassium, while solid manure contains abundant phosphorus and organic matter. When volatilization into ammonia is prevented, these nutrients are retained and remain separated, making them available for targeted crop nutrient fortification.
For example, urine could be used in place of commercial urea fertilizer, a practice already being employed by the Dutch dairy producers who have used experimental CowToilets. Fuel and electrical power production are additional possibilities because hydrogen is more easily extracted from urine than water.
Hanskamp is looking at ways to install the CowToilet as an addition to automated milking systems (AMS) so cows would not have to visit a separate feeding station on AMS farms. The company expects to begin marketing the product in the rest of Europe in 2022, and is hopeful it will reach the United States by 2023.