Hole-y cow: cattle have holes in their digestive tracks for science

Reach inside the research department at the University of Arkansas and you'll feel cattle guts.

The research subjects for an ongoing study there are a hole-y herd — cattle with a hole surgically cut into their sides. The hole lets scientists reach directly into cattle's' stomachs to study how they digest their food, according to the local television station, KHBS news.

A reporter met one of these grazing subjects, Hilda the cow. She didn't seem to mind that someone was reaching into her body. In fact, she didn't even seem to notice.

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Hilda and others like her are called cannulated cows, and their bodily windows have been disgusting and enlightening us for years.

Ohio State University's student newspaper, the Lantern, has quoted a researcher as saying the hole doesn't hurt the animals, and cannulated cows tend to be even healthier than the rest of the herd.

Researchers told KHBS that a better understanding of cattle digestion could help us control climate change.

You see, cattle are rather flatulent and burp-prone creatures. The methane a dairy cow produces each year is equal to the greenhouse gas emissions of a mid-sized vehicle driving 20,000 kilometres, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

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Researchers at the University of Alberta developed a formula for reducing cattle gas a few years ago based on a balanced diet. Cow backpacks, plastic containers strapped to cows' backs to collect their burps, have also helped scientists in Argentina understand the issue, according to Reuters.

Beyond hole-y cattle, there have also been hole-y humans. A gut-wrenching episode of the NPR show Radiolab last year documented the historical case of man with a permanent hole through to his stomach who became a scientific wonder.

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