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Fistula cows – with holes in their stomachs

Janne Karin Brodin

In one of UMB’s cowsheds, some of the cows are somewhat different: the fistula cows, 12-14 of them. These cows have a fistula made out of rubber – a hole into the rumen which is big enough to allow a person to put her/his hand down it. The hole provides researchers and students with a unique opportunity to study processes inside the cow.

We have had fistula cows since the beginning of the 1980s. Since then, they have helped optimize feeding, reduce nitrogen emissions, produce milk with more beneficial fat components than ordinary milk, and recently they contribute to research that aims to reduce methane emissions from livestock.

 Summer idyll
Summer idyll Foto: Jonas Løvaas Gjerstad


The rumen – “the black hole”
Previously, our knowledge on the processes within the rumen was very sketchy. Establishing a fistula into the rumen has given new possibilities. Through this hole, feed samples may be taken out or put in. By regulating what the cow eats and making use of the opportunities provided by the fistula to gather and analyze the “end product” in the form of manure and urine, researchers and students have a unique opportunity to study the conversion of the feedstuffs. The rumen fistula is made out of a soft rubber material and is equipped with a lid.
 The rumen brimming with feed
The rumen brimming with feed Foto: Janne Brodin


 The lid is off, and feed samples may be taken out or put in
The lid is off, and feed samples may be taken out or put in Foto: Janne Brodin


Is the fistula painful or irritating?
If the cow were to decide, she would surely not choose to have a fistula. During the operation to insert the fistula, the cow is awake and stands on her own four feet. She has been given an injection of sedatives and local anaesthetic, and is in no pain. For the first days after the operation, she is given painkillers. Once the operation wound has healed, the fistula is not noticeably bothersome to the cow.


 Fistula cow at full tilt
Fistula cow at full tilt Foto: Jonas Løvaas Gjerstad

During summer, the fistula cows have a minimum of eight weeks’ ”summer holiday” and join the other “normal” cows in the UMB grazing lands. The fistula cow eats, shits and has calves just like other cows, and she produces normal quantities of milk. The fistula is washed and cared for every day, also while the cows are in the grazing lands.

 Cleaning a rumen fistula
Cleaning a rumen fistula Foto: Jonas Løvaas Gjerstad


 In the fistula cows’ shed
In the fistula cows’ shed Foto: Janne Karin Brodin

Is this necessary?
The important question is whether the research that is conducted with the aid of the fistula cows justifies the use of the fistulas. Opinions will naturally vary on this.

The fistula cows have contributed among other things to:  

 Students learning about the four stomachs of the cow
Students learning about the four stomachs of the cow Foto: Ukjent


Oppdatert: 17.12.09
Utskriftsvennlig versjon

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Institutt for husdyr- og akvakulturvitenskap

Tlf: +47 64 96 51 00

Webansvarlig: Janne Karin Brodin


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