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A window to the world of a cow’s stomach

Terry Whitt

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.”

Weaver worked as a laboratory and student assistant in the Ruminant Nutrition Department as part of her summer internship at Ohio State.

Cows have four compartments in their stomach with the largest being the rumen. This cavity is the focus of operation for the research with cannulated cows.

The rumen is the part of the stomach where the majority of the animal’s digestion occurs, which is what researchers are trying to learn more about. Cows typically consume 50 pounds of foliage per day, and this food sometimes does not provide the best possible nutrient values for the animals, Weaver said.

“We have had an emphasis on nutrition for years because of its importance in regards to milk production,” said Maurice Eastridge, professor of dairy nutrition. “By researching what nutrients the cows receive from various feed combinations, we are hoping to improve nutrition recommendations for dairy producers and the livestock industry in general.”

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.”

Some of the other research projects OSU has conducted with cannulated cows deal with the utilization of protein in feeds to reduce nitrogen excretion, and the usage of cereal grain by-products as an alternate feed source for foliage in the animals diets.

Each research project must first be approved by the department and then evaluated to determine if the farm can provide the requested number of animals for the research. A faculty member serves as the principal facilitator for the research with graduate students and undergraduates carrying out the research guidelines, Eastridge said.

“I participated in a study abroad to Australia and saw cannulated cows over there, and I had no idea that this was a research project all over the world,” Weaver said. “It’s amazing how much we can learn from these animals for the betterment of their health and for product production.”

Not many colleges have these animals and Ohio State participating in it is a great honor and privilege.”


  1. “for the betterment of their health” really????? Couldn’t you find a more humane way? You’re obviously trying to improve the mass milk production to increase profits. And I wonder how people manage to swallow a piece of meat or drink milk after seeing this…..

  2. Are you hiding the comments?

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