Portia is a cow at Tufts university. She has been living with a large hole in her stomach since 2002. It looks life-threatening, but it’s not. The hole was put there on purpose so scientists can study her digestive system.
There are many cows out there like Portia, known as fistulated cows. A fistula, or opening, is cut into the side of a cow during surgery. The operation doesn’t hurt and the hole doesn’t affect the cow’s lifespan.
The window is plugged with a plastic cup, which scientists take off when they need to reach into the cow’s stomach. This helps them better understand how the stomach works, and can also be used to help other sick cows.
Cows are known as ruminants, meaning that they have a four-chamber stomach. The rumen — where the opening is made — is the largest compartment and contains all of the good bugs and bacteria that are needed to digest food. When a cow can’t digest food, because bad bacteria has entered the digestive tract or the good bacteria has died, these fistualted cows can help.
In the video below, a researcher at Tufts veterinary school shoves her hand into the hole and pulls out a mushy green-looking substance. She squeezes all of the juices into a bucket. The juices from the healthy cow are then passed into the sick animal through a feeding tube. This process gets the sick cow’s digestive tract up and running again.
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