It’s a wee issue but with a big environmental impact; and a new award-winning technology developed by AgResearch may help farmers to address it.
Scientists at the research institute have developed what they call acoustic urine sensors to tackle the problem of nitrogen loss from the urine of cattle, which affects water quality and leads to emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.
The device attaches to the rear leg of dairy cattle to enable recording and identification of distinct sound patterns in “urination events”, including timing and volume. Data from the recordings is analysed using technologies that include machine learning.
Dairy cows typically urinate 10-12 times per day with an average urination volume of two litres per event and an average equivalent urinary nitrogen application rate estimated to be approximately 600kg of nitrogen per hectare.
“Our research has shown that the nitrogen load of an individual urination event is closely connected with daily urination frequency, the time of day and the volume of the urination event,” says AgResearch senior scientist Brendon Welten.
“This means that urination frequency and volume per event directly affects the amount of nitrogen deposited in urine patches on the pasture. Therefore, cows that urinate more frequently per day coupled with a lower volume per urination event tend to excrete lower amounts of nitrogen per urination event and so represent a lower risk to the environment.”