CLAIM

The dairy industry invented a new way to abuse cows, and is now cutting holes in them to improve milk production. See Example( s )

EXAMPLES
Collected via Facebook, April 2016

MIXTURE

RATING

MIXTURE

WHAT'S TRUE

A video shows a "fistulated cow."

WHAT'S FALSE

This is a new form of abuse and is used to increase dairy production.

ORIGIN

On 18 April 2016, the Facebook page “Best Videos You Will Ever See” posted a video purportedly showing a cow with a hole in its side, along with the claim that this was a new form of abuse by the dairy industry:

The dairy industry invented yet another way to abuse cows – cutting a HOLE in the middle of the body in order to test which pasture maximizes the profits that can be made from milking them.

While the video is real, the “Best Videos You Will Ever See” page’s claim is not. This video shows a cow with a surgical fistula — not a hole punched in a cow to help observe which pasture helps cows produce more milk.

The hole in the cow’s  side is the result of a surgery called a “rumen fistula,” and gives researchers a window to see the cow’s digestive system and, more importantly, to transfer microbes from sick to healthy cows. The surgery is frequently done at veterinary schools, and is typically seen as a benefit for cows and researchers:

Behind every successful cow are millions of gut microorganisms — mostly bacteria, protozoa, and some fungi. This bastion of bugs that resides in a cow’s 20-gallon rumen are ultimately responsible for digesting all the plant material the bovine consumes.

Being the quintessential symbiotic relationship — the cow supplies the bugs with nutrients and the bugs convert cellulose into usable energy for the cow — it also works the other way: when the cow gets sick, the bugs get sick, too. Then they die. And no gut bugs eventually means no cow.

Transfaunation — the act of taking microbes from one source and putting them in another — can be a literal lifesaver when it comes to a bovine bellyache. And how does one go about retrieving such a sample? By creating a one-stop shop for your sick cow’s gut flora needs. Designated donor cows with a surgically installed port allow access to the rumen from the outside.

According to an article in Modern Farmerthe surgery is relatively straightforward and does not effect the longevity of the animal:

Placing a rumen fistula — the medical term for a permanent hole between an internal organ and the outside world — into a healthy cow for collection purposes is a relatively straightforward procedure and performed frequently at veterinary schools, according to Dr. Brian Aldridge, clinical professor and specialist in large animal internal medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Illinois. “To put one in would take about an hour and a half,” he says.

Rumen flora from a fistulated cow helps not only sick cows, but also sheep and goats because they share similar digestive systems.

Sick farm animals and surgical patients aside, fistulated cows are also a staple in bovine nutrition research, since having a fistula makes it easy to sample rumen contents in order to study how different nutrients affect a cow’s digestive system. The cost of surgically installing a rumen fistula is about $300 and doesn’t affect the longevity or health of the cow, says Dr. Susan Fubini, professor of large animal surgery at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “The plastic cannulas themselves last forever,” she says. As for the fistulated cows, “They are without a doubt the happiest animals in our hospital.”

While fistulated cows may prove to be a startling sight at first glance, this is neither a new nor a controversial practice. Cannulated cows have been used in research for decades, and most researchers contend that the animals do not suffer ill-effects from the procedure.  A 2009 video showing Portia, a cow at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary, provides more information about cannulated cows:

While this surgery can be used to observe bovine digestive systems, and may result in healthier animals and (by extension) potentially higher profits as a result, it is inaccurate to say that the dairy industry recently started putting holes in their cattle to increase milk production.

Sources:

Spector, Dina.   “This Cow Lives With A Giant Hole In Her Side.”
Business Insider.   10 October 2013.

O’Brien, Anna.   “Holey Cow: The Wonderful World of a Fistulated Cow.”
Modern Farmer.   12 September 2014.