This story was first published on May 20, 2014
Circulating reports claim that cows have been fitted with ‘windows’ that allow researchers direct access to the rumens of the animals to monitor how food is processed.
The claims are true. In fact, the technique has been used in various locations around the world for many years. Via the windows, called cannulas or fistulas, scientists can easily access the contents of a cow’s rumen and better ascertain nutrient requirements.
Images Reveal How farmers are monitoring cows ‘windows’ in their sidesResearchers in Switzerland have fitted 14 cows with cannulas, pictured, in their sides that are cut directly into the cow’s digestive tract, and fitted with a plug. The 8-inch (20cm) holes allow farmers to see how food is being processed, and to analyse the animal’s energy efficiency
While the story may seem far-fetched at first blush, it is actually true. In fact, such ‘windows’ have been fitted to cows and other farm animals around the world for many years.
A 2003 report originally published in The Lantern explained:
Finding the best nutritional elements to feed domestic animals is a high priority in boosting their health. Research conducted at Ohio State is helping to find this combination with the help of cannulated cows.
‘Cannulated cows are the same as all other cows in the herd except that they are fitted with an item called a cannula,’ said Natasha Weaver, a senior in animal science. ‘Basically, the animals have surgery performed upon them that creates a passageway in the side of the animal so researchers can perform readings on what takes place in the cow’s rumen.’
Cannulas Allow Easy Access
Animal Welfare Concerns
Animal welfare activists have decried the practise as being cruel and unhealthy for the animals. However, researchers maintain that cannulated cows do not experience pain when being examined. And, the cows are anaesthetised when the cannulas are fitted.
In fact, according to The Lantern article, cannulated cows may be healthier than their ‘unwindowed’ herd mates:
The digestion of food for nutrients in the rumen is done by millions of microorganisms. The abundance of microbes also keeps the cannulated cow healthy, often the healthiest in the herd, Weaver said.
‘You would think that by having an opening in their sides would allow outside microbes to enter and infect the cows, but with there being such a numerous presence of natural microbes already in the rumen, the new microbes cannot compete for nutrients to survive,’ Weaver said.
Because these cows are so healthy, some farmers keep a cannulated cow on the farm to help improve the health of the other animals in the herd.
‘Basically, the cannulated cows serve as a rumen fluid donor to sick animals. This is done by extracting rumen fluid contents from the cannulated cow and feeding it to the sick cow,’ Eastridge said. ‘The microorganisms in the fluid multiply and take the place of the bad organisms in the sick cow and make the cow healthy again.’
Cannulated cows are sometimes called fistulated cows. The practise is also regularly carried out on other ruminant farm animals, including sheep.
That said, the practise is not as common as some protest messages imply. Many farmers around the world will likely never have the need or desire to use such “cow windows” and may not even be aware of the practise.