Have you ever driven by a field of cows and noticed that many have big holes drilled into their sides and thought; what the heck is that?!?

Why Some Cows Have Big Holes Drilled In Their Sides

For the record, I know nothing about veterinary science, raising cows, or dairy research, but I do know seeing cows that look like this is slightly disturbing...

Badgerland Legends via Facebook
Badgerland Legends via Facebook

Is that cow sick? Is that how the cow is fed? Does this cow herd have some weird medical condition?

The answer to all those questions is no. These cows have been "cannulated" (also called "fistulated") in the name of research.

Why Are Cows Fistulated?

I am a huge animal lover, so seeing a cow with a big hole in its side hurts my heart a little, but after doing a little research I discovered fistulated cows are actually lifesaving superheroes!

According to an article I found from PetMD, fistulated cows have "a hole permanently installed from the outside into their rumen" (stomach), that allows vets access to the cow's rumen microbes. Does that sound confusing? Maybe this explanation from PetMD on why rumen microbes are so important will make more sense...

A cow’s overall health is very much dictated by how healthy her rumen gut bugs, called “microflora,” are. When a cow is sick, her microflora can die, wreaking havoc on her digestive system. Sometime it’s a challenge to re-grow those gastrointestinal bugs. This is where a fistulated cow comes in handy.

Vets can literally pull out healthy rumen microbes and undigested food from a cow via the fistula and then administer them to a sick cow via a feeding tube.

This video shows how it works, (but I must warn you, it's a little nasty)...

Here are some more reasons cannulated cows are so important to the dairy industry in Wisconsin...

For those that are worried about the quality of life for a fistulated cow, every article I read says these cows are in no pain living with a fistula, and that they are highly cared for by veterinary staff.

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Gallery Credit: Katherine Gallagher

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