Practicing eating!

Caught a picture of our little bull calf.  His muzzle was dripping with milk but he slipped around mom, up to the hay feeder where all the cows were munching away.  He nuzzled up to the feeder and took a bite to check out what everyone was up to.

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At this age, he is beginning to practice eating forage.  He still does not get much nutrition from it, but his gut is being colonized by the bacteria he will need on board, to help digest the cellulose (tough fibers). That’s what makes ruminates (cows, goats, sheep, etc) such useful creature.  They can take forage on land unusable for crops, and convert it to food.

At birth, the four parts of the cow’s stomach are not “active”.  Milk is shunted to the last stomach; the only one that can absorb nutrition from the milk. A calf lifts its head up to nurse, which shuts off the entrance to the other sections of the stomach.  Calves that are fed from a bucket, with their heads down, do NOT shut off that entrance and tend to be very sickly; despite getting milk. They are NOT getting the food into their system.

Commercial cattlemen finally figured out they needed to raise the bucket up and the calves would be much healthier. Such a small observation of how mother nature works, made a huge difference in the health of calves off their moms.

Calf stomach compartments

As small amounts of milk & microbes, from the practice chewing/eating gets into the rumen, it becomes colonized with the different microbes that will handle different types of forage. A different group of microbes for grass, for alfalfa, for orchard grass, or teff, or blends. Once all the areas are colonized, the four compartments have very specialized functions. After eight weeks the calf’s rumen should be fully functioning. The rumen, his bulk storage container where food is first inoculated with microbes to break it down, will grow 25 times larger from birth to adulthood.

One of the things we do is transition any feed changes slowly, over a week or two, to give the microbes a chance to catch up! Otherwise we end up with cows with very “liquid” deposits!

Food/Forage management by poop analysis, would be a “polite” way to put it.

Rumination in action!

Before cows ruminate, they must first eat some food… hay, pasture, forage (leaves, stalks, etc).


Actually, cattle have one stomach with four compartments.

4 different compartments

Cow Stomach with 4 compartments

They are the rumenreticulumomasum, and abomasum, with the rumen being the largest compartment.The reticulum, the smallest compartment, is known as the “honeycomb”.

Cattle sometimes consume metal objects which are deposited in the reticulum and irritation from the metal objects causes hardware disease.

The omasum’s main function is to absorb water and nutrients from the digestible feed. The omasum is known as the “many plies”.

The abomasum is like the human stomach; this is why it is known as the “true stomach”.

Cattle are ruminants, meaning that they have a digestive system that allows use of otherwise indigestible foods by regurgitating and rechewing them as “cud”. The cud is then reswallowed and further digested by specialisedmicroorganisms in the rumen. These microbes are primarily responsible for decomposing cellulose and other carbohydrates into volatile fatty acids that cattle use as their primary metabolic fuel.

The microbes inside the rumen are also able to synthesize amino acids from non-protein nitrogenous sources, such as urea and ammonia. As these microbes reproduce in the rumen, older generations die and their carcasses continue on through the digestive tract. These carcasses are then partially digested by the cattle, allowing them to gain a high quality protein source.

These features allow cattle to thrive on grassesand other vegetation.

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