Understanding How Ruminant Livestock (Like Cattle) Digest High Fibre Feeds Livestock

Many of us know (or have heard) about the ability of a group of animals called Ruminants to digest cellulose which we, and other non-ruminants would be unable to utilise in our own nutritional systems.

This article provides a brief insight into the features possessed by ruminants, and the complex processes that occur within their bodies, to enable them perform that unusual feat, seemingly without making any noticeable effort.

1. Ruminants do not have any incisors on the upper jaw, but instead have a dental pad. However, they do have molars on both jaws.

When a ruminant swallows its food, it does very little chewing and the first place the roughage goes is the RUMEN, where bacteria and protozoa (microorganisms or microbes) produce enzymes to digest the cellulose and protein in the plant.

2. The food is later regurgitated by the anti-peristaltic movement from the rumen back to the ruminant’s mouth where the animal then “chews the cud” i.e. gives the food a thorough chewing which further breaks down the food.

Each mouthful of “bolus”, or mass of “ingesta” is thoroughly chewed and swallowed again, before another mass is regurgitated from the rumen. This process continues until the mechanical breakdown of the fibrous feed is completed.

3. The ingestion is passed into the RETICULUM and OMASUM where these parts of the stomach aid in the physical breakdown of coarse plant parts, that may have escaped the chewing which takes place in the rumen.

4. Finally, enzymatic breakdown (by digestive juices secreted from the wall of the abomasum) occurs in the abomasum which is similar to the stomach of the non-ruminants.