Device takes wee look at cows

20:35, Apr 10 2013

A pee-o-meter that measures the amount of nitrogen in cow urine has been developed in Palmerston North and is a world first.

Its official name is the AgResearch Urine Sensor, says its developer, Keith Betteridge, senior scientist at AgResearch.

Nitrogen in cow urine forms dark green patches in paddocks and sometimes leaks into waterways.

It is that nitrogen leaching that is causing issues for farmers, with some environmentalists wanting to restrict dairy cow numbers.

The technology could lead to cows being bred with lower levels of nitrogen in their urine.

Betteridge said that before the urine sensor was built, everyone relied on research using "average" urine.

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"But this sensor tests each cow each time it urinates. There are differences between cows, and even with a cow during the day."

He said cows had stronger urine in the morning, with more nitrogen, than when they were drinking water through the day.

"It had been impossible to measure, but now we've got this ‘glue on' sensor, we get an instantaneous measure of nitrogen in the urine."

Betteridge said there was nothing like it in the world.

Catching a cow's urine of about 30 to 40 litres a day was not feasible but the sensor allowed researchers to tell immediately the volume of urine and the amount of nitrogen the urine had in it every time, he said.

"We know there is a huge variance between cows, but we don't know yet what the difference is between breeds of dairy cow," Betteridge said.

He said the urine sensor had been developed and refined by an AgResearch team, with some commercial help, over four years.

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