Did you know there is an easy trick you can use to tell if your cow is getting enough to eat? I don’t know about how it was for you, but when I first became a cow owner, I agonized over whether our Maybelle was happy, healthy, and getting enough to eat. I was thrilled when we moved to our new homestead primarily because it meant that she would get more than enough forage and we wouldn’t have to worry about it quite so much.
Perhaps you’re in the same boat, trying to squeeze as much farm life as you can onto a small spot of earth you call your own. Many of us are on limited pasture supply or trying to conserve as much as we can on our feed bill. I know “they” say a cow only needs X amount of pasture or hay a day, but are they really getting enough to eat? “They” said our Dexter only needed ½ a bale a day and we learned that was certainly not the case pretty quickly!
Well, we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves now that allow us to better husband our animals. And the easiest one for knowing if our cow is well fed is to learn where her rumen is and monitory it daily to make sure it’s full.
Let me show you where the rumen is. Holly will demonstrate. We put her away overnight with no feed so that her rumen was on the empty side and I could get a photo for you. Apparently it was cold that night and she decided to keep warm and disgrace herself by lying in a pile of her own waste as she is wont to do from time to time.
See that pocket of sunken flesh in the shape of a triangle inside the red circle? That’s the area you’ll want to pay attention to. Her rumen is in there.
Now, as much as I wanted to make myself an easy mnemonic device when I first learned this info and say “Rumen is on the right,” it’s not. No easy way to remember it, but the fact is the rumen is on the left side. And the left side only.
Being a dairy cow (and a cull cow from an organic dairy no less), Holly’s right side looks like that circled area pretty much all of the time. A fact which usually led me to panic from time and again until I sorted that whole right side, left side thing out in my head. I kept thinking she was starving.
Here’s a shot from another angle. You can really see how hollow that space is behind her ribs. She’s one hungry mama!
Flash forward to later in the day (ok fine, it was a week later because I kept forgetting to go out in the evening and take another photo) and this is how she looks with a fuller rumen. (And a cleaner hide.)
When I went out, she had actually just stood up and started eating again, so she’s not even as full as she could be, or would be in an hour. It’s totally ok to see that entire hollow area rounded out and you should learn to recognize what is normal for your cow so that you can easily discern when she has a full rumen or if you’re dealing with bloat. (If that same area distends beyond “full” you need to assess whether you cow has bloat.)
Let’s move on to our next example.
This is #144. I don’t believe you’ve met yet?
She hasn’t an official proper name because the children spent so long scrapping over it, they forgot to name her. I’ve yet to nickname her and I’m sure that when I do, it will be what sticks.
She is our new beef heifer that we’ll be breeding and then her future offspring will provide us with a steady supply of beef each winter. At least that’s the plan. All I know is we can’t depend on Jersey beef to keep us in beefy business when it could be 2-3 years between freezer refills.
I find it much more difficult to tell when #144’s rumen is empty. Her diet was restricted the same as Holly’s, and while you can see a slight indentation there, it is certainly much less pronounced.
Both photos were taken at the same time Holly’s were and you can see that #144’s side is rounder in the 2nd photo. But it’s not like a “wow” kind of difference.
Other easy signs that a rumen is healthy and full is whether she is looking dreamily content and chewing cud (I love watching them. It’s almost hypnotic and so relaxing) and if you’re hearing their bubbly guts doing their work while you’re brushing or caring for them, then you know that giant fermentation chamber in their body is doing it’s job.
I’m not sure if it works the same way for goats who are also ruminants (Any goat readers? How do you tell?), but this trick worked for our Cheviot sheep when we had them. And full, happy sheep are sheep that are more likely to stay inside the fence.
Which makes me happy.