Crowds line up for chance to feel inside cows at Saskatoon vet college event

Storm Bartsoff says most people are a little nervous about sticking their arm into a cow’s stomach, but it’s when the stomach compresses that they usually recoil.

Western College of Veterinary Medicine opens doors to public with Vetavision event

Third-year veterinary student Storm Bartsoff guided members of the public through their first time feeling inside the stomach of a cow on Saturday. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

Storm Bartsoff says most people are a little nervous about sticking their arm into a cow's stomach, but it's when the stomach compresses that they usually recoil.

"When the stomach contracts it'll tighten down on your arm a little bit so it kind of scares you and makes people jumpy," said Bartsoff, a third-year veterinary student at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, the veterinary school at the University of Saskatchewan.

Nevertheless, every two years, a long line of eager participants wait at the college's Vetavision open house for a chance to feel inside a cow's stomach.

The event gives the public a chance to see the types of veterinary research being done at the Saskatoon university.

"Fistulated" cows like Cinnamon are one of the main events, drawing a crowd that is usually bigger than the 75 guests she is allowed to accommodate in one demonstration.

Cinnamon is fitted with a fistula, a rubber tube that creates an opening in her stomach that can be plugged. It also allows Vetavision visitors to reach in and feel inside her stomach.

Animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals object to the practice, and to these animals being put on display at demonstration and recruitment events. 

Bartsoff said the demonstration is not painful for the cow, adding that what she feels is probably akin to what we feel when we push our tongue to the inside of our cheek.

The 13-year-old cow is contributing to feed research by allowing students to test how the protozoa and other bugs inside her stomach are reacting to different feeds.

Researchers can also transfer the good bacteria inside the stomach of a healthy cow into the stomach of one that is unwell to help remedy the problem.

Bartsoff said he likes that the Vetavision event gives the public more insight into what veterinary science can do.

"It educates and gives people awareness that we can do these types of things and we're doing everything we can to make animals healthy and give them the best welfare that we can," he said.

All of the booths at Vetavision are student-run by future veterinarians who have created their own displays.

Sheep, goats, piglets and fluffy, two-day-old chicks are some of the other animals on display.

Students are available to answer questions about everything from how many stomachs a cow has to how a chick hatches from its egg. 

Vetavision co-president and fourth-year veterinary student Alexina Labrecque says the vet college open house gives the public a better understanding of how diverse vet science can be. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

Vetavision co-president Alexina Labrecque is a fourth-year student at the college.

She said the open-house event is an opportunity to showcase the diversity of veterinary science.

"Most people know that veterinarians are dog and cat doctors. They see them in their neighbourhood," said Labrecque.

"But they are also involved with industry and a wide variety of animals such as bees, which is new at Vetavision this year."

This two-day-old chick was one of the farm animals on display at Vetavision in Saskatoon. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

She said lesser-known veterinary jobs also include working with human doctors on diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans, or working in the pharmacological industry.

About 1,400 people toured the college on the first day of Vetavision Friday. Organizers were expecting more visitors on the second and final day of the event, which ends at 8 p.m. CST on Saturday.