Hole-y Cow! WTFistula?

Via Joe Mohr
on Nov 1, 2012
get elephant's newsletter

Why the need for the holes (“Rumen Fistula”)?

This excerpt from a PBS interview with Michael Pollan, entitled “Modern Meat” explains:

“… one of the problems with this system, is that cows are not evolved to digest corn. It creates all sorts of problems for them. The rumen is designed for grass. And corn is just too rich, too starchy. So as soon as you introduce corn, the animal is liable to get sick.

It creates a whole [host] of changes to the animal. So you have to essentially teach them how to eat corn. You teach their bodies to adjust.

You start giving them antibiotics, because as soon as you give them corn, you’ve disturbed their digestion, and they’re apt to get sick, so you then have to give them drugs. That’s how you get in this whole cycle of drugs and meat. By feeding them what they’re not equipped to eat well, we then go down this path of technological fixes… Once they start eating the [corn], they’re more vulnerable. They’re stressed, so they’re more vulnerable to all the different diseases cows get. But specifically they get bloat… They stop ruminating [chewing cud].

You have the image of a cow on grass, of the cow ruminating… burping a lot. In fact, a lot of greenhouse gases come out of the stock as methane emerges from their mouth… they bring down saliva in this process, and it keeps their stomach very base rather than acid.

…the gas can’t escape, and the rumen just expands like a balloon. It’s pressing against the lungs and the heart, and if nothing is done, the animal suffocates.”

Of course, something is done so the animals do not suffocate—holes, or rumen fistulas, are cut in the side of the cow to allow the gas to escape and the undigested corn to be scooped out.

Some farmers will claim fistulas are good for their cows because it extends their lives. This is a dangerous half-truth. Their life is made shorter due to common factory farming practices (confined quarters, inproper diet, etc.), and the fistula prolongs their factory-farm shortened life. Fistulas don’t address the problem of eating corn, it reacts to the problem of eating corn. Neither the cow, nor the consumer benefit from corn feed.

More facts:

>>Antibiotics keep the animals from having liver disease because they can’t digest the corn.

>>We exist in the same microbial environment as these animals. Whatever you do to that germ ecosystem will impact us.

>> Microbes are evolving to withstand those antibiotics.

>> We can see this is happening in hospitals, too. According to the PBS interview:

Given that most of the antibiotics are used in agriculture, the belief is that a lot of these superbugs that are showing up in hospitals that are not susceptible to any antibiotics are being created by their process. …so you have this phenomenon [that] we can’t treat. We’re getting antibiotic-resistant [diseases].”

Are we creating a potential public health problem?


Bonus Video

From Grace Communications: The Meatrix Trilogy.

For more on Factory Farming

From PBS: Food, Inc.

Further reading:

Backyard Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

Farm Bill Update: Things Have Gotten Weird.

How Destructive Does Meat Have to be Before We Decide to Eat Something Else?

From Sustainable Table: Factory Farms, Cheap Feed

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

Like elephant food, elephant animal rights and elephant green on facebook.


About Joe Mohr

Joe (aka "Mean Joe Green") is a painter, illustrator, cartoonist, writer (ROBOT+BIKE=KITTEN), beekeeper, father and hubby who enjoys travelling, biking, walking and hiking. Joe’s environmental articles and cartoons can be found on Elephant Journal, Yes! magazine (print and online), Urban Conversion (PBS), The Center for Media and Democracy, Greenpeace, Natural Papa, Eco Child's Play, Ecolutionist, Ecopolitology, PlanetSave, and a few others. He also does an environmental kids cartoon series called “Hank D and the Bee”on NaturalPapa, EcoSnobberySucks, and EcoChildsPlay. Joe is proud to be the #1 individual cartoonist that shows up after Googling "Monsanto cartoon". Visit Joe's cartoon archive, twitter ramblings and Stumble Upon page.


3 Responses to “Hole-y Cow! WTFistula?”

  1. Marc Hutton says:

    My understanding is that it is typically done to only one cow in a dairy herd. This cow is then used for a process called transfaunation. Transfaunation is where the rumen contents of the fistulaized cow are fed to another as a means of reinoculating a unhealthy cow that is suffering from acidosis. They do make an incision in the rumen in very extreme cases, but typically bloating is relieved by using a hose inserted into the rumen. Still is a terrible way to raise animals but it appears to me you are making it appear more common than it is in reality.

  2. Edward Staskus says:

    The elegant and simple slution is to not eat animals. It is not necessary to sustain a healthy life, and in fact often contributes to unhealthiness in many ways. Then we won't have to poke holes in cows and create ever stronger antibiotics to counter superbugs.

  3. […] I can see that’s ridiculous. Hmm…I wonder how those big operations make that work…steroids, GMOs, confinement […]