How a balanced rumen enhances your animals’ health

09 November 2021
4 minutes

A balanced rumen is crucial for cows' health and milk production. Symptoms of rumen acidosis include changes in manure, reduced milk production, and behavioral changes. Consulting specialists like De Heus can help adjust rations and manage rumen health effectively, especially during stressful periods like calving.

For a farm to function well, it has to be healthy. The same goes for the cows on a farm. Healthy cows are more efficient, resulting in optimal milk production. What’s more, animals that look healthy and produce milk easily enhance the dairy farmer’s work satisfaction. One of the factors contributing to a cow’s good health is a well-balanced rumen. So what do you need to do, to ensure your cows have healthy rumens?

How to spot rumen problems

Rumen problems can be caused by a variety of factors. The specialists at De Heus regularly encounter rumen acidosis, for example. This is a metabolic disease caused by highly digestible ('fast') grass silage. In practice, the first and second-cut silage is much faster than anticipated, even though they appear to be slowly fermentable.

You can spot the onset of rumen acidosis by using your sense of touch, sight and smell. Beware of silage where the grass seems to have little structure, low dry-matter content and an excessively sour smell. If you notice any of these signs, you may need to adjust your ration. If you fail to spot these signs, look out for a number of other typical symptoms among your dairy cows. For example, there may be changes in the manure. The cow's rear will often appear to be 'dirty'. And the cow may start to foam at the mouth. In a somewhat more advanced stage, the cow may lie down with its head facing the rumen.

Another potential change is a drop in milk production for a longer period of time for no apparent reason. In modern farms, the milking robot will often record less activity. All these signs could point to a rumen that is no longer healthy.

Milk production may also become moderate and contain fewer solids. The fat concentration in particular may be on the low side. If the rumen is unstable for a prolonged period, it may have a negative effect on fertility and cause hoof problems as well.

What you can do

If you notice these kinds of changes, contact a De Heus specialist for help. Together we can look for ways to reduce the fermentation speed. We start by checking whether we can use different roughage on your farm. This kind of silage can be easily combined with fast-fermenting silage. The key is to look for slower-fermenting feeds with sufficient structure.

Pay extra attention during period of change for your cow. 

In truth, any situation involving changes for the cow can potentially upset the rumen balance. Stressful situations, in particular, can cause rumen acidosis, such as the period around calving. Cows that have recently calved may have a lower feed intake than desired, which may cause rumen problems. These cows often consume less roughage (and therefore less structure-rich food), because they may not have fully recovered yet.

You can help these cows by stimulating feed intake and ensuring they consume sufficient crude fibre. In that respect, the period before calving is important too. Preparing properly for the dry period will give cows the support they need.

Want to improve your farm results? Get in touch with us!