Mecklenburg-Vorpommern District

Cows have many hidden abilities, from tricks to rides, trainers say

Although she weighs an impressive 900 kg, Emmi gracefully enters a small stage.

The six-year-old cow knows her routine and climbs onto the wooden platform, which is only 60 cm wide, just as her trainer Markus Holzmann taught her.

Holzmann, 21, is known far beyond Bavaria and not only teaches tricks to Emmi, but also to an ox named Huge, the horse Prinz and a few other cows.

He is so successful that today he can make a living as a cow trainer, with his work taking him all over Germany and Switzerland.

Most of his customers are hobby farmers who want to learn how to work with animals, he says. Some even bring their cows and horses to his farm in the Allgäu, near the Alps, where he has set up a training area that resembles an oversized dog training center.

Laura Runkel also knows that cows can do more than chew the cud, give milk and be slaughtered for meat.

Runkel, 21, has trained several cows for school children to ride, much to the delight of youth in her Ludwigsburg neighborhood.

“We’re part of the local school curriculum,” says Runkel.

She also works with local farmers when they are struggling with a particular animal.

Further north, in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Jan Langbein investigates the hidden talents of cows, but for different reasons.

Langbein is a scientist at a research institute for farm animal biology in Dummerstorf and is trying to find out whether it is possible to housetrain calves.

It is an environmentally oriented project to reduce the amount of ammonia produced when a cow’s urine and feces mix. The chemical not only harms the environment, but also the climate and human health.

However, ammonia emissions could be avoided by keeping urine and feces separate.

In a first series of tests, the Dummerstorf team trained 11 of 16 calves to such an extent that they could pee in a latrine more than three quarters of the time. The scientists used a combination of rewards and punishments that included food and cold water splashes to reach this level.

In fact, the researchers say, the calves were just as successful as potty-trained children. Further experiments in the natural environment of the animals in the barn are to follow.

“If you ask animals the right questions, you can discover a lot,” says Langbein.

In his view, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with teaching cows to do tricks or using them for riding.

“I don’t see a problem at all as long as it is done through positive conditioning, i.e. with rewards,” says Langbein.

Although it’s important not to teach cows skills that go against their natural behavior, the training that Holzmann and Runkel provide is beneficial to the cows, he says. It keeps them busy and in touch with people.

“These cows definitely enjoy life more than a dairy cow in the barn,” says Langbein.

According to a spokesman for the Bavarian Farmers’ Association BBV, behavioral training is also important in livestock farming.

For dairy cows, farmers use positive reinforcement at milking by feeding concentrates to encourage them to return to the milking system.

But the “good and conscious handling” of the farmers also plays a role, according to the spokesman, for example by addressing and petting the cows in a relaxed voice.

Farmers in the Allgäu, where Holzmann has established itself as a cow training company, like the idea of ​​offering rides and coaching.

Consumers come into contact with agriculture and animal husbandry on such occasions, says the BBV spokesman.

But despite their talents and abilities, cows are still animals and not people, says the expert and warns against misinterpreting their behavior patterns.

Cow trainer Holzmann doesn’t worry about that. The most important thing for him is treating the animals with respect.

“A cow doesn’t do anything that it doesn’t really want to,” says Holzmann, adding that he teaches this primarily to customers.

Emmi helpfully demonstrates this trait after performing her trick. Holzmann needs a lot of patience and persuasion to get the cow to follow him into the stable.

“Well, it has to be worth it,” he says, laughing. – dpa/Friedrich Mersi