Treating and Thwarting Bloat in Cattle

A livestock expert ruminates on the rumen’s role in keeping cows healthy. Learn how to help and treat cows affected by the bloat.

Photo by divanvdw

We use the term “bloat” to describe how we feel after one too many tacos. But for cattle and other ruminant animals, such as sheep and goats, bloat is much more than post-meal discomfort. Bloat can escalate rapidly, and it’s often fatal if not treated quickly.

So what exactly causes bloat, and how can it be treated? Even more importantly, how can it be prevented? When discussing bloat, it helps to know a bit about the rumen, and how the entire ruminant digestive system functions.

Photo by Searsie

Rumen Anatomy

We’ve all heard that cows have four stomachs. This isn’t true; they only have one stomach. But it’s true that their ruminant digestive system is a complex, multichambered system. Part of this complexity is the precise balance of the microbes that’s necessary for the system to function properly.

The rumen is the largest part of the digestive system. This large compartment can contain up to 50 gallons of digested feed in large cattle. Smaller cattle will have a proportionally reduced capacity. Regardless of the size of the animal, the rumen still makes up a significant part of the digestive system.

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