To optimize productivity and prevent sickness, management of rumen health is important on operations from cow-calf through to feedlot. The rumen is full of a diverse group of bacteria that break down fibre and help with digestion. To maintain rumen health, the bacterial population needs to be diverse and able to effectively break down feed.
When pH levels in the rumen drop too far, fibre digestion decreases, nutrient absorption is reduced, and the lining of the rumen is damaged. Acidosis also leaves cattle more susceptible to disease.
The number one key to maintaining a healthy microbial population is to ensure a constant dry matter and nutrient supply to the rumen, but of course this is easier said than done. Cattle inevitably vary their dietary intake when they are calving, being transported, are sick or hunkered down in storms.
During a webinar held in February of 2015, Assistant Professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Greg Penner PhD, spoke about the importance of maintaining rumen health. Here were three take away points:
A constant supply of feed is essential to maintain rumen health (27:25– 48:29)
Cattle that go off feed not only have less nutrients available to them, they are also less able to absorb available nutrients. When nutrient supply is not consistent, the gut lining is not as capable of blocking harmful bacteria, making the animal more susceptible to infection.
Cows on pasture aren’t immune to ruminal acidosis (51:46-53:56)
Ruminal acidosis is typically thought to be a disease of feedlot cattle, but highly fermentable forages can also result in acidosis. For example, in a study that measured the rumen pH of cows on pasture, over 40% of animals showed some sign of ruminal acidosis and 11% had pH levels low enough to indicate severe acidosis. Therefore, grazing management to prevent acidosis should be considered.
Forages help animals that have been off feed to recover (58:25 – 1:01:04)
We can’t prevent storms or many other events that cause cattle to stop feed intake, but there are ways to help them recover faster. Research has shown that when animals go off feed, a diet that is high in forage will help cattle recover and stabilize the rumen environment. Cattle on a high forage diet will resume normal intake faster, and have less of a reduction in rumen pH than those on a moderate forage diet.
Click here to subscribe to the BCRC Blog and receive email notifications when new content is posted.
The sharing or reprinting of BCRC Blog articles is welcome and encouraged. Please provide acknowledgement to the Beef Cattle Research Council, list the website address, www.BeefResearch.ca, and let us know you chose to share the article by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We welcome your questions, comments and suggestions. Contact us directly or generate public discussion by posting your thoughts below.