When images of cows with portholes in their sides started to appear online, the floodgates of rumors burst open. From secret experiments to mad scientists on the loose, everyone had their opinion.
In reality, this is the legitimate work of veterinarians and other reputable scientists. They realized that lab studies can go only as far when it comes to understanding the health problems of cows.
Cows Have a Very Complex Digestive System
Unlike most animals, cows are unique when it comes to the way they eat and digest food. Their stomach has four different compartments. And each of them has a specific role.
Knowing how each of them works can help doctors understand the impact of feeding on the health of the cow. Also, as you will see, cows do not eat their food just once – but several times.
Cows Swallow Their Feed without Chewing
When a cow is grazing, it is actually swallowing the grass whole. They do not chew it, but simply store it in the first compartment of the stomach. This is called the rumen.
After a while, the cows will lie down and regurgitate the food back into the mouth. This is when they actually start chewing it. The food goes back to the rumen, where the stomach acid starts breaking it down.
Gut Health Is Essential for Cows, Too
We know that the good bacteria in our gut keep us healthy. This is also true for cows. Their gut bacteria help convert cellulose from the feed into energy.
If the gut bacteria get sick or die off, the cow will also become ill. It will be unable to get sustenance, no matter how much they eat. Losing cattle can be disastrous to smaller, family owned farms.
Veterinarians Need to Know What Happens in the Rumen
Other digestive problems can make cows very sick. So vets need to know what they are eating. Also, they have to analyze the contents of the rumen – together with the gut bacteria.
What if they could literally see inside the stomach of the cow? This is how the idea of putting a cannula on a cow came about. Also known as fistulated cows, a group of select animals help doctors in a unique way.
What Exactly Is a Fistulated Cow?
The porthole visible on cows is actually a medical device called a cannula. This is not even a new medical procedure. It was performed for the first time in 1928 by two researchers at the North Dakota Agricultural College.
The cannula allows doctors to access the rumen of the cow directly. Since it is completely sealed off, there is no risk of infection for the cow. Vets and researchers wear gloves and are extremely careful when they open the cannula.
But Isn‘t the Cow in Pain When the Cannula Is Applied?
Looking at a fistulated cow, you may imagine that it is in pain and discomfort. This is simply not true. From the very beginning, veterinarians make sure that the animal is comfortable and pain free.
The veterinarian will first apply a local anesthetic. Thus, the animal will not feel anything during the medical procedure. The vet will keep it under supervisions for any signs of discomfort.
The Veterinarian Will Check Carefully the Newly Applied Cannula
At the end of the surgical procedure, the doctor will make sure that the cannula is properly fitted. Complete sealing is essential for the well-being of the animal.
The presence of the fistula will not impact the length and quality of life of the cow. It will continue to feed normally and reach the same average age as any other cow.
Why Is It Important to Get into the Stomach of a Cow?
At this point, you may wonder – is it really necessary to subject the cow to this surgery? The answer is yes. A trained vet technician can extract food samples from the rumen at various stages of the digestive process.
By analyzing the content of the stomach, dairy farms can understand how different types of feed help their cows thrive. It can also detect early signs of gut illnesses.
Gut Flora from Healthy Cows Is a New Form of Treatment
When they extract the content of the rumen, doctors will also obtain a valuable sample of healthy gut flora. They learned how to use it to treat sick cows.
This type of treatment is called rumen transfaunation. It is similar to taking probiotics to keep your gut bacteria healthy while undergoing antibiotic treatment.
The Doctors Will Separate Gut Flora from Feed Carefully
Every step of the process is performed with great care. Doctors will filter gut flora, making sure that it is free from impurities.
Once the process is complete, the doctors can administer the gut bacteria to a sick cow. This would not be possible without a fistulated cow to start with.
Gut Bacteria Replacement Can Save the Life of Sick Cows
While medicines can help in many ways, extract of natural gut bacteria is the best treatment for digestive problems.
The extract is given orally to the sick cow using a hose. This type of treatment is both effective and non-invasive. It is also free from any negative side effects that drugs may give.
Looking at Cow Food (Literally) May Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas
One of the biggest issues of large cattle farms is that they contribute to the increased quantity of greenhouse. How exactly does it happen? The kind of food cows eat cause them severe flatulence.
Having a change to examine the digestive process of the cow may help scientists change that. More precisely, by trying different types of foods, researchers can measure how much methane is released by each of them when cows pass gas.
Dairy Farms Analyze Rumen Contents to Increase Milk Production
The last reason for applying porthole cannulas to cows is rather more controversial. By studying the digestive process of different types of feed, dairy farms want to maximize milk production.
For animal activists, this is a form of abuse and over-exploitation of the animals. And this is exactly why they work hard to end the practice of cow fistulation.
Of Course, Cows Cannulation Is Highly Controversial
Despite the benefits scientists list, animal activists want to put a stop to the procedure of cow fistulation. This is, after all, a highly invasive procedure. Applying a porthole to an animal for the purpose of reaching inside its stomach raises several problems.
First of all, it is the ethical aspect of interfering with the physical integrity of live animals. Without proper supervision, anyone would be able to literally put their hand inside the cow.
Many Voices Ask to Put a Stop to This Practice
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other similar organizations are petitioning for the end of cow fistulation. They do not believe that the end justifies the means used to treat cows or reduce greenhouse gas.
The organizations claim that cows, which are sentient creatures, are in pain during the process of applying the cannula. They also feel intense discomfort whenever anyone is putting their hands inside their stomach.
Some Activists Even Break the Law to Prove Their Point
In France, an animal rights group broke into a private agricultural research farm to film cows with fistulas. They requested an immediate ban on the procedure.
Their actions were denounced as irresponsible and illegal by the farm owners, an important food research group.
Cows Are Not Protected by Animal Welfare Laws in the US
Over here in the US, animal rights groups face a supplementary difficulty. The Animal Welfare Act, the federal law protecting the rights of animals used in research, does not cover cows.
However, they are not deterred. They continue to campaign for the rights of cows and an end to the fistulation procedure.
What Do You Think about This Procedure?
Is cow fistulation an innovative scientific procedure that actually helps other animals? Or is it just a barbaric intervention that treats living animals as objects? The debate is far from over.
Both the defenders of this practice and its accusers have strong arguments. What is your take on this topic? Do you believe the end justifies the means? Whichever your opinion may be, you have a voice and we want to hear it!