How to Build a Healthy Rumen Environment
Jill Davidson, PhD – Diamond V National Accounts Manager
Tips to Build a Healthy Rumen Environment
The health of your herd starts with good rumen management. Healthy cows perform better. Better performance can lead to greater production, and ultimately greater profitability. Without a well-functioning rumen, your herd could be more susceptible to a variety of health complications and costly expenses. Two things are vital when it comes to optimal rumen health: a stable, active, and healthy microbial population; and a suitable pH. The goal should be to minimize the time that rumen pH drops below 5.8. Without a healthy microbial population and suitable pH , the rumen becomes less efficient at digesting feed.
So, how can you build a healthy rumen environment? Incorporate these three tips listed below.
Create the Right Balance in the Ration
A healthy rumen starts with a well-balanced ration. The right balance of nutrients ensures micro-organisms work effectively, and allows the cow to obtain the greatest nutritional benefit from the feed she consumes. A consistent and constant supply of nutrients is key for optimal rumen pH, and rumen microbial growth and activity.
However, it’s all a balancing act with the end goal of having each mouthful of feed include a complete nutrient profile. When building a diet, focus on the nutrients critical to a cow’s daily needs like carbohydrates (starch, fiber), protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. It is important to understand how these components interact and their influence on rumen microbial function. As diets are mixed, uniformity becomes critical, so that every mouthful has the same nutrient profile, and that sorting by cows is minimized.
Encourage the Growth of Beneficial Rumen Microbes
A nutritionally balanced diet will provide the conditions and substrates to maximize growth and activity of the microbial community. Microbes work to break down what a cow eats, producing volatile fatty acids (VFAs); it’s all about providing the right nutrients to the right microbial populations to produce the most beneficial levels of VFAs. These VFAs are important precursors for energy to the cow. The three primary VFAs are:
- Acetate: This is a key end-product of fiber fermentation. It’s used for milk fat synthesis, so too little acetate production creates a lower fat test.
- Propionate: This is the result of fermentation of starch and sugars. In the liver, propionate gets converted to glucose and can be used by the cow as energy for weight gain or in the production of lactose in the udder. Without propionate, milk production can suffer.
- Butyrate: Much of this is metabolized by the rumen wall to supply energy to rumen cells or used in the liver.
Feed Products That Give Rumen Microbes What They Need to Grow
Probably the most critical part of calf raising is getting enough high-quality colostrum into the calf as soon as possible after birth. Colostrum should be harvested from the cow cleanly and as quickly as possible after calving. Cows begin to reabsorb immunoglobulins soon after calving, so the longer you wait to harvest, the more colostrum quality drops.
Once harvested, test for quality using a brix refractometer and cool as quickly as possible to prevent bacterial growth. Then, when feeding colostrum make sure it’s fed in a timely manner and that all equipment is clean and regularly sanitized. If great care is taken to harvest clean, high-quality, pathogen-free colostrum, all that work goes to waste if the feeding equipment is dirty or contaminated.
Bottle nipples are one important and often overlooked piece of equipment. Often nipples become worn out from repeated use and cause an excessive amount of milk to be delivered. This can be fine for mature calves, but it’s not good for newborn calves just learning to drink from a bottle. To check the status of your bottle nipples, fill a bottle and hold it upside down after putting on the nipple. If milk drips out of the nipple, it’s fine. If there is a steady stream of milk, the nipple needs to be replaced.
Formulating the precise nutrient requirements in the diet can be a challenge. We must build a diet that feeds both the microbial community as well as the cow. Supplying the rumen microbes with nutrients and feed products that will encourage microbial growth and support the manufacturing of microbial protein will ultimately support the cow. The microbes themselves are an important protein source for the cow to utilize for her protein needs.
Remember – when we think about the rumen microbial community, it has huge implications in contributions to the cow to meet the protein and energy needs. Anything we do to that could disrupt the balance of the numerous rumen microbial populations, can influence how well the cow is able to perform.
One way to create a stable rumen environment and microbial community is to incorporate a proven feed additive. NutriTek® is Diamond V’s most advanced natural* nutritional health product for all dairy animals. Through extensive research, NutriTek has been demonstrated in supporting better gut health, balanced immune function, and ultimately increased production and profitability . Research indicates that this product helps cows navigate the five critical periods within lactation:
- Calving without metabolic disorders
- Supporting better dry matter intake during the fresh period
- Activating reproductive cycling to initiate pregnancy
- Maintaining pregnancy
- Drying off at proper body condition
Ultimately, a healthy rumen makes more energy and nutrients available for milk production and other body functions. A cow with a healthy rumen can digest feed more efficiently and supply appropriate building blocks for glucose production. The bioactives in NutriTek work synergistically to optimize digestive health by promoting a healthy rumen microbiome and help balance immunity with delivery of beneficial antioxidants. Cows will increase feed intake, have improved efficiency, and produce more milk. The improved performance allows cows to perform closer to their genetic production potential and improves whole-herd health.
Building a healthy rumen environment is essential to support a cow’s health and nutrient supply. Creating the right balance in the ration, establishing beneficial VFA production, and feeding a product that effects the rumen microbes can ultimately improve gut health and immune strength