How do we prevent cow urine from reaching freshwater?

Cow urine can account for up to 90 per cent of nitrogen leaching into freshwater. There is no easy way to prevent this as the biggest problem with urine is that cows deposit it in a small concentrated area so the pasture is unable to take up all the nitrogen that is contained within it. An ideal answer might be attaching sprinkler systems to cows to spread out their urine, however, this is far from possible.

There are other ways to capture waste, including feed pads, stand off pads, and herd homes or barns. Usually these systems are not used all of the time and instead can be used when soils are most prone to leaching and damage (from soil compaction).   Animal effluent can be captured and applied more evenly to soil as a fertiliser source; this can minimise potential leaching. However, there are obvious downsides to pads and barns – they are expensive, generally a brought-in feed source is required to feed cows, and they do not truly address the problem of cow urine leaching. Growing additional feed has its own problems with nitrogen leaching from feed crops and the extra land required to grow this feed.

The best way is to reduce the inputs of urine to the soil – by lowering stocking rates and reducing nitrogen fertiliser use. We can’t keep relying on technology to get us out of the mess we’re in and continue along the same path of increasing intensification. This is an issue of intensification and we can only address it by adopting less intensive land uses.

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