How now, cannulated cow? | Other Nations


European Pressphoto Agency image from Mail Online

Think back to when you first read or heard about debeaking. Remember how shocked, horrified, and disgusted you were? You had to adjust your schema–the cognitive framework that helps you make intellectual sense of the human animal/nonhuman animal relationship–to accommodate this new and terrible information. “Now,” you might have thought, “I understand the scope of Homo sapiens’ exploitation of animals.”

But of course you didn’t. You continued to learn about other abominations–the cruel weaning rings that prevent calves from nursing (video); surgical dog devocalization (video); fox and coyote penning (video)–and so much more. Again and again you’ve adjusted your schema to accommodate new knowledge and, in doing so, have come to understand just how far your species is willing to go in its use and abuse of other animals. If you’ve been an animal rights activist for any time at all, you know this sad pattern all too well.

Recently I learned about poultry blinders and shook my head in disbelief over the relentless human ambition to thwart animals’ behavior and lives for our convenience, gratification, sport, and profit. But the latest revelation comes like a gut-punch–perhaps opening a window into the heart of darkness itself. Welcome to another shocking episode of It’s a Speciesist Life. This time? “Cannulated Cows.”

“Hole-y cow!” It’s a joke…get it?!?

“Hole-y cow! How farmers are monitoring what cows eat using ‘window’ in their sides” reads the headline of a recent article about Swiss researchers who’ve cut holes in cows’ sides and fitted the holes with plastic sleeves called cannulas, using them as “portholes” for direct access to the cows’ stomach contents:

Cannulated (also called fistulated) cows are not a new phenomenon and might not even be new to you. But me? I was stunned–and horrified. It was debeaking all over again. With schema newly adjusted, I learned that this procedure has been in use since the 1920s with even earlier instances occurring in the 1800s (see previous link, which includes Swiss research video). Cannulation is all about optimization: determining the optimal feed optimizes livestock production for optimal profit.

Given the longevity of this practice, you’d suspect that U.S. agricultural universities have had a hand in cannulation, and you’d be right. At the University of Arkansas, Upward Bound high school students learn that “the surgical process is like any surgery and is virtually painless for the cow.” Part science lesson, part freak show, students get to reach into the belly of Hilda, U of A’s cannulated cow.

The hilarity continues…

From The Standard, Missouri State University’s newspaper: “Holey Cow! You all know that there is whole milk that comes from whole cows, but what about cows with holes in them?” MSU’s ag center features four cannulated steers, and “they each have a first name that was hand-picked for each of them and are treated like kings of the castle.” Pain–or the lack of it–figures into this article, also: “The surgery takes about an hour, and the cows are anesthetized so they don’t experience any pain.”

Though it’s hard to fathom how tossing highly-processed Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling down the rumen hatch advances science, the caper does have the air of a fifth grade science fair project. And speaking of kids,’s Kids’ Zone provides a page titled, “What is a fistulated cow?” in its Jr. Animal Scientist E-News. was launched by the American Society of Animal Science (Mission:the responsible use of animals to enhance human life and well-being) two years ago to inculcate kids with the dogma of speciesism (e.g., see “Humane Harvest” and “Why eat animal products?”). Using science to legitimize and sanitize animal exploitation, Big Ag recruits ’em early and often.

cowmachineJustifying this horrifying experimentation is straightforward: It doesn’t cause pain. It allows researchers to analyze digestion and determine the best livestock feed. It has therapeutic value: rumen liquid from healthy, cannulated cows can be removed and pumped into sick cows whose beneficial digestive bacteria have gone missing. Never mind that it’s all about producing products–meat, milk–that humans don’t need. Watch and listen as a professor of agricultural practices at Kansas State’s College of Veterinary Medicine says–without any irony whatsoever–“We like to think of Fertis (the college’s cannulated steer) as saving as many cattle as we do in the state of Kansas.” Saving for what? goes unaddressed, but the slaughterhouse and dinner table are always just around the corner.

Not quite 400 years ago, Cartesian theory maintained that nonhuman animals weren’t conscious beings–indeed, were nothing more than complex, organic machines. Cartesian-era scientists cut open living dogs to see how they worked, ignoring their cries of pain as mere mechanical noise. This was no more significant than opening the back of a clock to view its inner workings. Now, in the 21st century, knowing all we know about animal consciousness, we cut portholes into cattle to examine their inner workings. And we do it strictly for our appetite.

But it’s OK, because it doesn’t hurt and we give them hand-picked names.

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