A canned cow lives with a hole in its stomach

Imagine being able to see the inside of a cow. Call it curiosity, or the urge to reveal all the truths of the world, but the canned cow is man’s experiment to find out what goes on in a bovine’s digestive system, and how its milk production reaches its maximum potential. can be extended. In 1928, Arthur Frederick Schalk and RS Amadeon of the North Dakota Agricultural College became the first men to peek inside curiously with portholes fixed to the cow’s body. Since then, scientists and agronomists around the world have pioneered the controversial practice to improve cattle health, reduce mortality, and increase milk production. Whatever the reason, we are almost a century ahead and the practice remains highly controversial.

A canned cow. visual: modern farmer

What is a canned cow?

Millions of independent microorganisms live within a cow that work day and night to fuel its digestive system. One of its four stomachs is the cow’s rumen where this magic happens—cellulose from plants is converted into energy in a 20-gallon pit. The symbiotic relationship allows the cow to thrive regardless of what it eats, and allows microbes to exist in exchange for their positive effect on the mammal’s gut health. Now imagine if a cow became ill and lost the homeostasis that allowed the good bacteria to bring her back to health.

In a cannulated cow, a porthole is inserted into a part of its body to obtain the rumen bug to treat sick cows. A cannula or a strong tube is inserted into the opening, and is used to obtain microbes from the body of a healthy cow. The rumen fluid and microbes are then transferred to the sick cow’s body. This is called transphonation. A healthy canned cow thus becomes a donor among cattle, serving them for the recovery of sick cows and even goats and lambs with healthy bacteria. Surgical insertion is also used to study the physiological processes of bovines, inserting food into their stomachs and taking them out for analysis.

canned cow

Detecting the inside of the ruminant. visual: Mizou Cafnr / Flickr

risk of surgery

The entire procedure is performed under anesthesia, and the cow recovers in about four to six weeks. The rumen is stitched to the lining of the body, and this fistulation allows researchers to examine the contents of the stomach as well as study the cow’s digestive processes. Various animal activists have opposed the practice of farming in different countries. But its campaigners suggest that the process has helped many cows live healthier lives for 12 to 15 years. Their own life span is increased, and the transfusion helps revive other dying and diseased animals. The entry of foreign bacteria into the animal’s body during surgery is a common concern, but scientific acumen has discovered that the reservoir of good bacteria that thrives inside the bovine’s body prevents any harmful microbes from breeding inside. These cows are often the healthiest in the herd.

canned cow

visual: wikimedia

Today the practice is flourishing around the world, from Europe to Australia. In France, Europe’s second largest milk producer, the guts of cows are being studied to reduce the effects of greenhouse gases and improve food production. The aim of the study is to discover the most suitable eating pattern that promotes higher milk production in bovines. However, that doesn’t take away from the jarring presence of laboratory roomina for modern experimentation. These fake ruminas are made of plastic, but mimic the process of fermentation in a real cow. Why open the beast when you can get the desired result from a plastic model? The answer lies in the consequent reduction of methane emissions in livestock farming. Cows that were cannulated or fistulated also proved healthier and lived longer.

canned cow

visual: Devra/Flickr

In a world where everything from eggs to leather is being produced genetically, and narratives are changing about what we eat, the question of the canned cow remains a gray area. Despite the intrigue of the case, of course.


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, modern farmer

, Rumen Cannulation: Process and Uses of a Cannulated Bovine

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