Low Ruminal pH Could Be Dragging Down Your Herd Health

September 2, 2015 03:47 AM
Low Ruminal pH Could Be Dragging Down Your Herd Health

When ruminal pH dips below 5.8,1 it can lead to larger health problems

When a cow’s ruminal pH dips below 5.8, it starts to drag her overall health down too. The cascade of events ultimately leaves producers with increased treatment expenses and decreased overall production.

“For the modern dairy cow, it’s common to take between six to 10 meals in a 24-hour period,” says Anthony Hall, MSc MSB, PAS, Technical Services, Ruminant, with Lallemand Animal Nutrition. “This naturally leads to fluctuating pH throughout the day. It’s been documented that lactating cows can spend up to 11.8 hours with a rumen pH below 5.8, which can mean nearly half a day of impaired digestion.2 A cow is simply not going to be in the best rumen health under these circumstances, and lowered health can damage the overall productivity of the farm.”

The period when the cow’s rumen pH is below 5.8 for more than three hours at a time is known as Sub Acute Ruminal Acidosis (SARA).1 Recurrent bouts of SARA can lead to erosion of the rumen wall, which allows bacteria in the blood stream. It can lead to liver abscesses, peritonitis or even damage to the heart, lungs or joints. Recurrent SARA also can cause long-term hoof-related problems that persist well after rumen pH balance is restored.

“SARA can have negative consequences to herd productivity,” Hall notes. “It’s important to reduce a herd’s risk of SARA so you’re heading the problem off, rather than trying to fix it later.”

First, Hall recommends that producers watch the highest risk groups carefully. All cattle are at risk for SARA, but the most commonly affected groups are fresh cows and high-yielding cows. Affected animals will eat more sporadically or reduce their feed consumption. Other signs of SARA include: decreased efficiency of milk production, reduced fat test, a higher incidence of milk component inversions, poor body condition score, unexplained diarrhea and episodes of laminitis.3

Proper feed bunk management, ration formulation and delivery can help protect the herd from experiencing SARA, Hall notes.

“When SARA occurs, the rumen isn’t optimized to make the best use of any ration, no matter how carefully formulated it may be,” Hall notes. “Even in-feed buffers like sodium bicarbonate can’t entirely eliminate the risk of SARA.”4,5

Ensuring optimal rumen function can help producers keep ahead of problems like SARA, Hall recommends. An active dry yeast (ADY) probiotic, Saccharomyces cerevisiae CNCM I-1077 -- has been shown to help maximize rumen function in all life stages of dairy cattle. Research shows that cows fed an ADY specifically selected to maximize rumen function spend significantly more time above the SARA threshold6 and even produce 2.1 pounds more per day of 3.5% fat-corrected milk (FCM) per cow per day.7

“Helping dairy cattle maintain a more consistent rumen pH can optimize rumen function — avoiding SARA and making the best use of a carefully formulated ration,” Hall says. “In turn, the whole herd can benefit from better rumen health and greater productivity.”

Source: Lallemand Animal Nutrition


1 Dohme F, DeVries TJ, Beauchemin KA. Repeated Ruminal Acidosis Challenges in Lactating Dairy Cows at High and Low Risk for Developing Acidosis: Ruminal pH. Journal of Dairy Science. 2008 (91) 9: 3554-3567.

2 Beauchemin K and Penner G. New developments in understanding ruminal acidosis in dairy cows. Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference. April 2009.

3 Oetzel GR. Subacute Ruminal Acidosis (Chronic ruminal acidosis, Subclinical ruminal acidosis). Merck Veterinary Manual, 1 Mar. 2012. Web. 1 July 2014. http://www.merckmanuals.com/vet/digestive_system/diseases_of_the_ruminant_forestomach/subacute_ruminal_acidosis.html.

4 Oetzel G R. Sub Acute Ruminal Acidosis in Dairy Herds: Physiology, Pathophysiology, Milk Fat Responses, and Nutritional Management. 2007. 40th Annual Conference. American Association of Bovine Practitioners. Pre-conference Seminar 7A: Dairy Herd Problem Investigation Strategies: Lameness, Cow Comfort, and Ruminal Acidosis, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Lecture.

5 Enemark JMD. The monitoring, prevention and treatment of sub-acute ruminal acidosis: A review. The Veterinary Journal. 2008. 176: 32-43.

6 Bach A, et al. Daily rumen pH pattern of loose-housed dairy cattle as affected by feeding pattern and live yeast supplementation. Animal Feed Science and Technology. 2007;(136):146-153.

7 de Ondarza MB, et al. Case Study: Multiple-study analysis of the effect of live yeast on milk yield, milk component content and yield and feed efficiency. The Professional Animal Scientist. 2010;(26):661-666.

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