Why do some cows dig holes in their stomachs?

Cows that have holes drilled in their stomachs are known as “cannulated” cows, and the hole drilled in their stomachs are known as “cannulae”. Imagine reaching for a cow’s stomach. Call it passion or curiosity, the cannulated cow is a man-made experiment to learn more about what happens in a cow’s digestive system and how to maximize milk production.

The cannula acts as a slit-like device that allows access to a cow’s rumen, allowing researchers to study and analyze the digestive system and veterinarians to transfer contents from one cow’s rumen to another. Arthur Frederick Schalke and R. Amadon of North Dakota Agricultural College was the first to describe the rumen cannulation procedure in 1928.

Cannulae are implanted into healthy cows for research on bovine digestion.

Why do some cows dig holes in their stomachs?
Cannulated cow

After the cannula is surgically implanted, the cow grazes for a set period of time before being examined. The farmers then uncork and remove the mixture of oats and grass from the cow’s rumen.

This mixture is then collected and tested, and analysis reveals to researchers and farmers that the forage yields the best results from livestock. Researchers can ascertain the effects of different feeds and processing methods on the digestion of cows by examining the chemical composition of the cow’s rumen. Also, the rumen can be examined to determine the nutritional value of the particular grasses that the cows graze on.

Hatched cows help treat sick cows.

Why do some cows dig holes in their stomachs?
Rumen transfaunation in a cow. Image credit:

A cow’s overall health is largely directed by how healthy its rumen intestinal flora, called its “microflora,” is. A sick cow’s bacteria/microbes may die, potentially destroying her digestive system. It can be difficult to grow those digestive bugs back sometimes. A cannulated cow can be helpful in this situation. Thus, a healthy, neutered cow acts as a donor among the livestock, providing healthy bacteria to heal sick cows.

An opening is placed in the side of the body of a cannulated cow to retrieve rumen insects to treat sick cows. Microbes are extracted from the body of a healthy cow through the cannula. Then the rumen fluid and microbes are transmitted to the sick cow’s body. This is called “genetic transfer”. You force-feed the sick cow using an orogastric tube (a gastric tube is inserted to improve respiration, reduce intestinal distention, prevent vomiting and aspiration, and promote visceral reduction), then wait a few days to check if her appetite has returned. Observing the droppings of a sick cow also helps to see how the digestive system is improving.

There is no risk with this surgery, and the perforation does not affect the lifespan of the cow.

Why do some cows dig holes in their stomachs?
Rumen fistula hole.

Using local anesthesia, the rumen is surgically affixed to the skin and body wall. The surgery is performed while the cow is standing. The cows are anesthetized before the operation, which takes about an hour, and they do not feel any pain. Cows have four stomach compartments, the largest being the rumen, where most of the animal’s digestion takes place.

A cannula, which is a tube made of thick and durable plastic, is inserted to maintain the surgically formed opening between the rumen and the skin while keeping it closed. For ease of access, a removable cover is included. After healing is complete in about four to six weeks, a brand new cow is ready to save lives.

The rumen, which is sewn into the lining of the body, allows researchers to examine the contents of the stomach and examine the cow’s digestive processes. Animal activists from different countries have condemned the cultivation method. However, some who support the treatment claim that it has helped many cows lead healthy lives for up to 12 to 15 years. The ability of hooded cows to function as normal cows is not affected. In fact, they can produce milk, and their digestive systems are not hampered in any way. Their lives are prolonged, and shunting between animals helps heal sick and dying animals.

Cannulation helps reduce the effects of greenhouse gases.

Why do some cows dig holes in their stomachs?
Cows stable

According to Jamie Newbold, academic director of Rural College Scotland, examining cows’ stomachs is crucial if we want to increase food production and reduce greenhouse gases. Cannulation, Mr. Newbold stated, provides direct access to the rumen, or stomach, of the cow “…so that individuals can withdraw samples”.

The purpose is to improve the digestive health of millions of animals, reduce antibiotic use, and reduce nitrate and methane emissions associated with livestock farming.

Animal protection organizations consider culling cruelty; Cannulation.

Why do some cows dig holes in their stomachs?
Cow lying in the stable after the operation.

According to animal protection organizations such as PETA, cannulation causes significant mutilation of the cow and is a highly unethical practice. Controlled cow stomachs contain microbes that are investigated and sometimes transmitted to other animals. While some claim that this transfer can boost cow health, the method appears primarily to serve the interests of the dairy and meat sectors, maximizing nutrition and digestion for animals that will ultimately be abused and slaughtered. That is, farmers can observe the contents of the animals’ stomachs and use their findings to extract as much milk and meat as possible from the cows, which are ultimately abused and slaughtered.

The suffering continues outside the industrial farm, too. Furthermore, cannulated cows are often shown at events such as vet school recruitment fairs or even high school activities! Participants are encouraged to reach through the hole as if the cow were an inanimate object rather than a conscious organism. Unfortunately, animals used in agricultural experiments are not covered by the Federal Animal Welfare Act, which is the only regulation that protects animals used in research. As a result, these cows are not legally protected from abuse.


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