Automated monitoring of urination events from grazing cattle

T Misselbrook, H Fleming, V Camp, C Umstatter, C-A Duthie, L Nicoll, A Waterhouse

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38 Citations (Scopus)
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Urine patches deposited by grazing cattle represent ‘hot-spots’ of very high nitrogen (N) loading from which environmentally important losses of N may occur (ammonia and nitrous oxide emissions, nitrate leaching). Information on the quantities of N deposited to grazed pastures as urine, the spatial and temporal distribution of urine patches and how these may be influenced by pasture management practices is limited. The objectives of this study were to assess the potential of recently developed urine sensors for providing data on urination behaviour by grazing cattle and relate this to measurements of ammonia emissions from the grazed paddocks. A total of six trials were conducted across two sites; two on a 1 ha paddock at Easter Bush near Edinburgh using beef cattle (c. 630 kg live weight) and four on a 0.5 ha paddock at North Wyke in Devon using in-calf dairy heifers (c. 450 kg live weight). Laboratory calibrations were conducted to provide sensor-specific functions for urine volume and N concentration. The quantity and quality of data from the urine sensors improved with successive trials through modifications to the method of attachment to the cow. The number of urination events per animal per day was greater for the dairy heifers, with a mean value of 11.6 (se 0.70) compared with 7.6 (se 0.76) for the beef cattle. Volume per urination event (mean 1.8, range 0.4–6.4 L) and urine N concentration (range 0.6–31.5 g L 1, excluding outliers) were similar for the two groups of cattle. Ammonia emission measurements were unsuccessful in most of the trials. The urine sensors have potential to provide useful information on urine N deposition by grazing cattle but suggested improvements including making the sensors lighter, designing a better method of attachment to the cow and including a more reliable location sensor.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191 - 198
Number of pages8
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Early online date18 Jun 2016
Publication statusFirst published - 18 Jun 2016

Bibliographical note



  • Ammonia emission
  • Nitrogen
  • Spatial distribution
  • Urine sensor


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