Research Promotes Beef Protein All Day

beef checkoff logoIf beef is what’s for dinner, what should be on the plates for the other meals? If you said it’s still beef, you’d be right. The fact is, research shows that balancing protein throughout the day makes good nutritional sense.

However, few Americans eat this way. The beef industry, however, through its Beef Checkoff Program, is working to educate consumers on the value of balance and adequate protein intake.

The challenge has been formidable. Research shows that Americans eat about two-thirds of their total daily protein at the dinner meal. That doesn’t leave much room for protein in your breakfast and lunch meals or snacks – and that could be a problem, current researchers say.

“The imbalance of protein meals is an issue,” according to Stuart Phillips, Ph.D., a professor in the department of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. “High-quality protein of sufficient quantities and evenly spaced is key to gaining or maintaining muscle mass.”

Phillips, a recognized researcher focusing on the nutrition and exercise factors that affect muscle protein, says the elderly especially are in need of more protein per meal to stimulate protein synthesis and muscle generation. An optimal intake for robust stimulation in older men is 42 grams per meal, or what is provided by about 6 ounces of cooked 85% lean ground beef.

According to Heather Leidy, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition & Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri, not only is protein important, but the time of day protein is consumed could be significant.  “Protein at breakfast appears to be a good target to increase protein intake,” Leidy says. “A high-protein breakfast seems to reduce food craving-based neural signals, and improve overall diet quality.”

In a review paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2015, Leidy and her colleagues suggested that higher-protein diets containing between 1.2 and 1.6 g of protein per kg of body weight per day (82 – 109 g of protein for a 150-pound person) – and including meal-specific quantities of at least 25-30 grams (equivalent to 3 – 3 ½ ounces of cooked beef) – provide these and other improvements.

Consensus of Opinion
The Beef Checkoff Program has helped support research seeking to answer these kinds of questions. One checkoff-supported study, conducted by Leidy, found that daily consumption of a higher-protein breakfast that included two eggs and 1.5 ounces of beef was superior to both a normal-protein breakfast that featured milk and cereal or skipping breakfast altogether, in terms of improving appetite control, curbing food cravings and reducing unhealthy snacking in overweight or obese teenage girls who routinely skip their breakfast meal. The research was featured in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2013 and in the Nutrition Journal in 2014.

This line of research has led to additional research on the timing, quantity and quality of protein intake and its impact on appetite and satiety, along with the development of novel dietary strategies and recommendations.

A disparity in the timing of protein consumption could contribute to health issues such as sarcopenia, or muscle loss, as well. A study on protein intake among the elderly, supported by the Beef Checkoff Program, demonstrated that consumption of both total and animal source protein was skewed heavily to the dinner meal. That could mean a disparity in quantity and quality of protein among the other meals.

The study, which utilized data from a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population (the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005-06) and quantified protein intake and determined adequacy of protein in the diets of U.S. adults, was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2013.

Putting Research into Action
The research on balancing protein throughout the day provided impetus last spring for the beef industry’s 30 Day Protein Challenge, a step-by-step way to get the optimal amount of protein across all meals. The challenge encourages consumers to eat 30 grams of protein at every meal to help them maintain and/or build muscle, control food cravings and generally provide better overall health and wellness. Undertaking the Protein Challenge would help them take control of their appetite and kick-start the benefits of balancing protein consumption.

Consumers who sign up for the challenge receive daily inspirational e-mails, tools to help them succeed and delicious, nutritious beef recipes with plenty of protein. While the 30 Day Protein Challenge was officially kicked off last April, consumers can start anytime and receive the 30-day plan.

Registered dietitians helped develop the challenge by first trying it out themselves and providing feedback to strengthen the program. After her own 30 day experience, nutrition expert Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE said “I liked that my focus shifted to protein, which overall made me choose more nutrient-rich foods. It made me focus on more of a ‘real’ dinner than just throwing something together.”

Dobbins noted that the broad nature of the Protein Challenge helped generate a wider appeal.  “Some people still don’t get that there is a wide range of acceptable protein intakes and that ‘plant based diets’ aren’t the only healthful approach,” she said.

Thousands of consumers have since become active in the 30 Day Protein Challenge program, with a website landing page becoming the most visited page on Tens of thousands of visits have been made to the page, thanks to state beef council and national efforts to promote it.

It was the research, however, that gave the program its value and credibility.

“Research has always been a cornerstone of our efforts to encourage better nutrition among consumers,” according to Jennifer Houston, a beef producer from Sweetwater, Tenn., and chairman of the Federation of State Beef Councils. “As we learn more about the benefits of protein consumption throughout the day, we can share those with thought-leaders and others who are helping consumers enjoy optimal nutrition. Making sure people have the proper amount of high-quality protein at the right times is certainly one way we can improve nutrition nationwide.”

Houston says it’s also a way to continue to stress the value of beef in the diet. She says the educational and research efforts are a natural fit. “Without research, our promotions and educational efforts wouldn’t be effective or believable,” she says. “Our emphasis on research is how we find out as much as possible about protein, and that’s evidence that what we do is based on what we know to be true.”


Dietetic interns participate in a beef from pasture to plate tour

2015 MDI Tour press release picBILLINGS – Earlier this week the Montana Beef Council hosted another successful pasture to plate tour for nearly twenty Montana Dietetic Internship (MDI) students pursuing a career as a Registered Dietitian. The tour was conducted in Two Dot, Montana with local ranchers Jed and Annie Evjene where the attendees were able to experience first-hand where and how beef is raised on the American Fork Ranch.

This year’s tour began at the historic ranch headquarters where the Evjene’s explained the family ranching operation and the history of the area to the interns to help them understand the importance of agriculture and specifically beef production.

“It is important for me to help you understand where food comes from,” Jed Evjene told the interns. “There is a lot of misinformation out there about ranching practices and we are here with our gate open for you to see real ranching practices first-hand.”

Throughout the tour the interns not only had the opportunity to see cattle and horses, but also calving facilities, rangeland and more. Jed shared his passion for maintaining the land and water as they are vital to sustainability. While touring around the ranch the interns learned about the entire beef cycle and that cattle spend the majority of their lives on pasture. Evjene’s also shared their experience of being chosen as Regional Environmental Stewardship Award recipients and the responsibility they feel to continue teaching others about ranching and their commitment to care for the cattle and natural resources.

Next, over a healthy beef lunch, the interns learned about beef nutrition from Registered Dietitian Lisa Murray, including lean cuts of beef, optimal protein levels in the diet, beef’s fatty acid profile, and new research showing beef’s positive role in heart healthy diet.

“Beef has 10 essential nutrients and just 150 calories per three-ounce serving and there are more lean beef choices today than ever before so you can feel confident in helping your patients keep beef in their diet,” said Murray.

Leaving the pasture, the tour headed to The Grand Hotel in Big Timber where Chef Amy Smith demonstrated multiple ways to cut beef as well as providing samples of recipes from The Healthy Beef Cookbook.

“Steak is cool,” exclaimed one intern after the presentation.

To complete the day, the interns then toured Pioneer Meats of Big Timber to get a back-of-the-house look at a custom butcher shop with owner Brian Engle. Brian’s passion for quality was evident as he detailed every aspect of their award-winning family-run processing facility.

The theme of the internship is a systems approach to sustainability and sustainable foods and Montana Beef Council has worked with Montana State University, Bozeman to provide this tour as a tangible learning experience during their internship. Following this tour, the interns will disperse across the state to continue their dietetic internship with rotations in clinical dietetics, community nutrition, and foodservice management.  Interns successfully completing MDI will obtain a certificate that qualifies graduates to take the dietetic registration exam.

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The Montana Beef Council is organized to protect and increase demand for beef and beef products through state, national and international consumer marketing programs including promotion, education and research, thereby enhancing profit opportunities for Montana beef producers. For more information, contact Lisa Murray, RD at (406) 656-3336 or

Beef Cattle Water Requirements Changing With Summer Heat

Dr. Rachel Endecott, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

Of the six classes of nutrients — carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and water — water is the most often overlooked, yet the most critical. Cattle performance can be affected by water intake.

Water requirements are a bit of a moving target, as feeds contain water and the metabolism of certain nutrients in the body produces water. This means that not all the water needs must be supplied as drinking water. High moisture feeds such as silages or pasture have increased water content, while harvested forages such as hay and straw contain little water. Cattle water needs are influenced by temperature, physiological stage, and weight (Table 1).

Endecott requirements of range livestock

Water intake increases dramatically at high temperatures; in fact, water requirements double between 50° and 95° F!  Table 2 illustrates the daily water requirements in gallons per 100 pounds of body weight for cattle at 90° F. This implies that a spring calving cow-calf pair would require 28 gallons of water for a 1400-lb cow plus an additional  7-9 gallons for a 350-450-lb calf (some of this increased calf water requirement can be met by milk intake).

Endecott water requirements cattle temperature

Providing unlimited access to clean, fresh water will ensure cattle performance is not negatively impacted; this goal becomes even more critical with increasing temperatures.

Veterinary Feed Directives and Natural Resources Legislation| Podcast

Antibiotics Use Livestock ResistanceOne of the bigger topics last week’s Montana Nutrition Conference was a discussion with Dr. Bruce Hoffman of Elanco Animal Health and Dr. Marty Zaluski, Montana State Veterinarian. These two had a great question and answer session regarding changes with Veterinary Feed Directives and our ability to continue using feed grade antibiotics in the livestock industry.

Montana Stockgrowers has been working with Dr. Hoffman and we’ll be providing you plenty of information about these changes and the relationships ranchers will need to build between their veterinarians and feed dealers with the implementation of these new regulations.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Hoffman for a lengthy discussion regarding these VFDs. He explained the changes in requirements in more detail and what we need to know before the new rules are in place by the end of 2016. Key points in the changes coming with Veterinary Feed Directives include the importance of involving veterinarians and nutritionists in our management decisions, abiding by label uses for antibiotics, and ensuring customers that we’re being good stewards of our resources in these conversations about antibiotics use in livestock.

On today’s podcast we’ll have a portion of that conversation, as well as some information about what Elanco is doing to bring greater awareness to the importance of protein in providing healthy food for the hungry amongst a rapidly growing global population through their Feed The Nine Campaign. Follow #FeedThe9 on Twitter or go to for more information.

But first, Ryan Goodman will catch up with MSGA Director of Natural Resources, Jay Bodner, for a quick review of a few bills during the Montana Legislative Session that affect wildlife management and landowner property rights here in Montana.

20 Montana Ranches Needed for 2015 Summer Research Project

Agri-Best Feeds is looking to work in conjunction with the Growth Through Agriculture Program sponsored by the Montana Department of Agriculture to do a summer research project on ranches throughout Montana evaluating the economic benefit of increased average daily gain on either calves or yearlings by feeding SweetPro and Redmond salt.

This project looks to work with approximately 20 ranches in different areas across Montana. Each ranch will put 75 to 200 head per ranch on the feeding program and compare the average daily gain to a contemporary group (same sex calves, similar genetics, range, water, etc.) of cattle on the rancher’s mineral and salt program. Each ranch will work with the researchers to put the protocols into place for around a 180 to 205 day trial that will look to run from calving to weaning for the cow/calf operation and the summer grazing period for a yearling operation.

Historically Agri-Best has seen and increase in average daily gains up to 4/10 of a pound utilizing SweetPro and Redmond salt compared to simply grazing with a good mineral program. The day cost for this program ranges from $0.42 to $0.48 per pair (or yearling) but the increased weight gain pays for all of the vitamin, mineral, protein, and energy needs of the cow, calf, and calf in gestation plus puts more dollars in the producer’s pockets and all on less grass.

For the summer research project, the selected ranches will pay $0.12 per pair (yearlings per head) per day for the animals on trial to participate in the program as a replacement value to their current salt and mineral program as well as supplying their normal mineral and salt for the control group. Agri-Best Feeds will carry the remaining cost of the program and deliver product into the ranch as well as working with the rancher on managing the feeding program. At the end of the trial period, the average gain increase will be multiplied by the contracted calf/yearling price and the proceeds split 50/50 between the rancher and Agri-Best Feeds. For example, a 4/10 pound average daily gain increase on $2.00 calves would produce an additional $.80 per day that would be split equally between the rancher and Agri-Best Feeds. The $.40/head on 100 head for 180 days would give the rancher an additional profit of $72/head or $7,200.

Other areas that this research project will evaluate are conception rates, forage usage, body condition, weaning ease and growth, and overall herd health.

Requirements to Participate in the 2015 Summer Feeding Research Project include:

  1. The management ability and commitment to follow the research protocol
  2. Enough cattle (pairs or yearlings – min of 100 head with 50 on trial/50 control) of:
    • Similar genetics
    • Same age (focusing on first and second calf heifers for the target of the bulk of the study)
    • Same sex on calves/yearings
  3. Same/similar range conditions (forage type, quality, quantity, etc.)
  4. Same/similar water (quality, availability, etc.)

The Growth through Agriculture Program seeks to add value to Montana’s agricultural products and have the prospects to create and/or retain jobs in Montana by funding projects that meet their criteria through grants and loans. Agri-Best Feeds, 2010 MSU College of Business State Farm Montana Family Business of the Year, seeks to equip farmers and ranchers to maximize land and livestock by distributing unique high performing products.

If you are interested in more information about this research project or to receive an application to participate in this research call 866 601-6646 and ask for Scott Anderson or email

The Case for Relative Forage Quality When Feeding Cattle Hay

Emily Glunk Montana State Forage ExtensionBy Emily Glunk, MSU Extension Forage Specialist

Feeding represents a large portion of the production and maintenance cost of animals. Some estimate that feeding can represent over 70% of the annual costs of maintaining a livestock herd, with hay representing a significant portion of that cost. Making sure that we are buying quality feedstuffs, and feeding in appropriate amounts, is critical in ensuring that we are being as economical as possible. In recent years, the cost of hay has increased significantly, and so efficient purchasing is critical.

A hay analysis is key in knowing the quality of the hay, how much to feed our animals, as well as being helpful in the buying process. Tools such as Relative Feed Value (RFV), which can be found on a hay analysis, have traditionally been used to compare hay. RFV uses fiber estimates, the acid detergent fiber (ADF) and neutral detergent fiber (NDF) portions of a hay analysis, to estimate the quality of the hay. This has been helpful in comparing between two types of similar hays, i.e. comparison of two alfalfa or two grass hays, however, it does not tell us everything about the availability of the fiber or other nutrients in that hay.

Several years ago, University of Wisconsin researchers developed a new method of comparison, called Relative Forage Quality, or RFQ. This value takes into account not only the fiber components of the plant, but the digestibility of those components as well. This tool is extremely helpful in telling us a little more about what may be available to the animal to use from that forage.

The ADF portion of a plant analysis is an estimate of the cellulose and lignin portion of the plants, cellulose being slowly fermented by the rumen or hindgut microbes before it can be converted into energy for the animal. Lignin is indigestible by both mammalian and microbial enzymes, and so is completely unavailable to the animal. Because it includes the parts of the plant that are relatively indigestible, ADF has been found to be negatively correlated to digestibility of plant material. This means that as ADF increases, digestibility of the plant decreases.

The NDF portion of a plant includes both cellulose and lignin, similar to ADF, but also includes hemicellulose, a fiber that is fermented more rapidly than cellulose by microbial enzymes in the hindgut or rumen. NDF has been found to be negatively correlated to intake, so as NDF increases, intake will decrease. This is largely a function of gut fill, so as an animal consumes a more fibrous feed, it will take less to fill up the gastrointestinal tract, thereby decreasing intake.

The problem with RFV is that it does not evaluate the availability of the nutrients. On average, a grass will typically have more fiber than a legume. However, the fibrous portion of grasses are  usually more digestible than the fibrous portion of a legume. Relative forage quality, RFQ, was developed to help account for that, using total digestible nutrients (TDN) in the calculations. This will be a better indicator of what is available to the animals and the microbes within that animal to use, and convert to energy. RFQ is typically going to be higher in grasses than the RFV value, while legumes may slightly decrease.

RFQ and RFV are also a great means of evaluating who got a “better deal”. Typically, if the RFQ ends up being higher than the RFV, then we say that the buyer got a better deal. This is because initially, with RFV, we may have thought that the forage was more indigestible than it actually it, which was shown in the RFQ. If the RFQ is lower than the RFV, we like to say that the seller got the better deal, as the forage was higher in indigestible fiber, so less is going to be available to the animal to use.

It must always be kept in mind that both RFV and RFQ are to be used only as a comparison between hays, its purpose is not to aid in ration balancing, but as an evaluation and buying tool. For any questions, please contact Emily Glunk, MSU Extension Forage Specialist, at 406.994.5688 or

American Heart Association Certifies Extra Lean Ground Beef As Part of a Heart Healthy Diet

DENVER – The Beef Checkoff Program announced this week that Extra Lean Ground Beef (Ground Beef that is at least 96% lean, 4% fat) is now certified by the American Heart Association® to display its recognized and respected Heart-Check mark. Retailers now have the opportunity to help identify eight different extra lean beef items as options for part of an overall healthy diet to their shoppers using one of the most trusted nutrition icons on food packaging today.

The extra lean beef cuts that meet the American Heart Association’s® requirements for heart-healthy foods as part of an overall healthy dietary pattern, and are certified to display the Heart-Check mark, include:

“Beef has many nutritional benefits and having the American Heart Association certify yet another beef cut empowers consumers to feel good about including beef in their diet, not only for its great taste but for its nutritional value,” said Jo Stanko, a cow-calf operator from Steamboat Springs, Colo., and vice chair of the Checkoff’s nutrition and health subcommittee. “Beef farmers and ranchers like myself share a common goal; to help consumers make shopping decisions to fit their needs and lifestyles by educating them about the health benefits of their food. To this end we will continue to support valid science to show consumers how extra lean beef is part of a healthy diet.”

Before putting its Heart-Check mark on any food, the American Heart Association® evaluates it against nutrition requirements based on sound science regarding healthy dietary recommendations, food categories, specific product ingredients and nutrient values.

Multiple retailers with hundreds of stores across the U.S. currently display the Heart-Check mark on certified beef items in the meat case. Retailers and processors can work with the Beef Checkoff Program to receive a discount on the certification fee for the American Heart Association® Food Certification Program.

Resources such as on-pack labels, posters and recipes are available for retailers to use in store and in shopper communications to promote the certified beef cuts.

To learn more about participating in the American Heart Association® Food Certification Program, please visit

About the Beef Checkoff
The Beef Checkoff Program ( was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. The checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. In states with qualified beef councils, states retain up to 50 cents of the dollar and forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the national checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.

Concerns When Feeding Frosted Alfalfa

Emily Glunk Montana State Forage ExtensionBy Emily Glunk, MSU Extension Forage Specialist

I have been getting many calls and emails from agents and producers about how to graze their frosted alfalfa. The biggest concern with grazing frosted alfalfa is the potential for bloat. Bloat is a serious problem in livestock, especially cattle, and preventative measures must be used when animals are placed in bloat-inducing situations, such as grazing alfalfa.

While a very nutritious forage, with high energy and protein values, grazing of fresh alfalfa comes with its risks. Typically, if a pasture is less than 50% alfalfa, there is a reduced occurrence of bloat. Care must always be taken when grazing alfalfa, even “non-bloating alfalfa”. “Non-bloating” or “bloat-safe” alfalfa have lower amounts of soluble proteins, the cause of bloat in ruminants. However, animals should still be monitored, because even though it is considered “safe”, bloat can still occur.

Why does alfalfa cause bloat in the first place? Soluble proteins in forages and other small particles within the cells of the plant are rapidly released once they reach the rumen. These proteins and particles are attacked by slime producing rumen microbes, which cause a buildup of stable foam. The foam decreases the animal’s ability to expel rumen gases that are created from fermentation of plant material. These gases begin to accumulate, causing pressure on the diaphragm, leading to bloat. In severe cases, the rumen can become distended, and death may occur.

montana alfalfa bloom feeding ranching hay cattleSo when does alfalfa become “safe” to graze? This seems to be the money question, as you will find several different answers. We know that we can feed pure alfalfa hay to ruminants, without causing any issues. This is because that forage has gone through a drying process, and the soluble proteins are significantly decreased. But at what point does it become safe, and what are some strategies that we can implement to decrease the risk of bloat?

Some things to consider are the environmental effects. Freezing of alfalfa, and grazing frosted/ frozen alfalfa, can significantly increase the chance of bloat. After a frost, the intercellular liquids freeze, and can puncture the cell walls, causing the cell to “burst” and contents to leak out. Soluble proteins will be released, and the incidence of bloat will be increased. If cattle are out grazing alfalfa during a frost, remove them immediately.

Some studies say that only three days are necessary after a frost to allow soluble proteins to decrease, however others cite that waiting five to seven days is safer. As a precaution, I generally recommend waiting about a week after a hard killing frost before grazing the alfalfa, at this point the plant has significantly dried down and the risk of bloat will be reduced.

Other recommendations for grazing frosted alfalfa include:

  • If it was not a killing frost, then wait until the alfalfa is in full bloom rather than bud to early bloom to graze. Soluble proteins decrease with increasing maturity.
  • Make sure that cattle are not turned onto alfalfa hungry. Feeding with a non-bloating forage beforehand will decrease the likelihood of bloat as they will not consume the alfalfa as rapidly
  • Monitor cattle for bloat several times throughout the day, especially when they begin to graze
  • Consider including the bloat preventative poloxalene (Bloat Guard) into your ration

Livestock that are suffering from bloat will begin to swell rapidly on the left side. If it is a severe case, the animal can die within the hour, which is why it is important to be constantly monitoring your animals. Kicking at their sides or stomping their feet are other signs that the animal is experiencing discomfort. If you notice any of your animals exhibiting these signs, make sure to call your veterinarian immediately.

Concerns When Feeding Sprouted Grain to Cattle

megan van emon msu extension beef specialistBy Megan Van Emon, MSU Extension Beef Specialist

Summer in Montana has been a wild ride. Because of the weather, grain harvest was delayed in many areas, and some barley and wheat have sprouted in the seed heads.  These sprouted grains, although not suitable for traditional markets, can be used as a feedstuff for livestock.

Based on the research, sprouted grains have similar feed value to non-sprouted grains.  Daily gains and feed efficiency in the feedlot are similar between cattle consuming non-sprouted or sprouted grains.  However, due to the high starch content of wheat and barley, feeding below 20% of the total ration on a dry matter basis is recommended to minimize incidences of acidosis.  For the greatest benefit of feeding wheat and barley, either sprouted or not, the kernels should be rolled or cracked, and should never be self-fed or used for creep feeding. Fine grinding of wheat and barley should be avoided.

grain cattle ranch feeding montanaMajor areas of concern when feeding sprouted grains are proper storage and the potential development of mold and mycotoxins.  Proper storage of the sprouted grains is crucial to maintaining quality and limiting mold growth.  If moisture levels are less than 13 percent, it can be stored as you would ordinarily store grain. When determining moisture levels of a field, make sure multiple samples are collected.  Moisture content may vary across the field depending on topography and wind, which would cause uneven drying the sprouted grain.  If moisture levels are greater than 13%, ensiling may be a better option for storage.  Sprouted grains can be ensiled in silos, bunkers, or storage bags.  Whole grain does not pack well, so rolling or cracking of the grain should be done prior to ensiling.  Sprouted grains, such as barley and wheat, can be layered with corn silage during silage packing to ensile the sprouted grain.

Due to high moisture of the sprouted grains and with cool weather conditions, mold may develop. If mold is seen on sprouted grains, it is recommended to collect multiple samples from the field. Proper drying of sprouted grains may occur on the outer edges and will be less susceptible to mold and mycotoxin production compared to the center of the field. Mold and mycotoxin levels should be assessed prior to feeding or harvesting because they can be hazardous to both humans and livestock. Barry Jacobsen, MSU Extension Plant Pathology, cautions that the dose of the mold or mycotoxin is very important when feeding potentially moldy feed. Jacobsen suggests that when submitting samples to labs, mold species and genus should be identified if possible. If mycotoxins are present in the sprouted grains at moderate levels, the sprouted grains should be combined with clean, non-moldy feed to reduce mycotoxin levels. For more, please contact your local Extension Office.

Introduction to Cattle Digestion | 10 Things To Know

Image via

Image via

Forages are the number one source of nutrition for cattle. Cattle are able to utilize a great number of forages, plants, and crop by-products as feed that humans cannot digest. They’re great recyclers and by utilizing cattle we’re able to produce food on millions of acres that otherwise wouldn’t be suitable for growing crops. Cattle are ruminants, meaning they digest feeds through microbial processes, compared to digestion through enzymes in monogastrics like horses, pigs and humans. Many scientists dedicate entire careers to the understanding of ruminant nutrition and are continually learning more about helping cattle to be more efficient and optimal producers through their diets.

Cattle have the capacity to consume 2-3% of their body weight in dry forages each day. That’s 24-36 pounds for a 1,200 lb animal. Less mature, higher quality forages will be digested more quickly and increase capacity for consumption. Lower quality feeds, high in lignin require more time for digestion and slow intake.

  1. Cattle have 1 stomach with four compartments – rumen (major digestion site), reticulum (honeycomb structure), omasum (has many folds, major site of water absorption), abomasum (true stomach, acid producing).
  2. The rumen is similar to a fermentation vat that can contain up to 50 gallons of material in adult cattle. The other stomach compartments regulate particle size. Once small enough, particles are allowed to pass from the rumen, to the other stomach compartments for continued digestion and absorption.
  3. Cattle spend about 8 hours each day “chewing the cud. They are regurgitating food boluses from the rumen and chewing up fibrous materials making them smaller for quicker digestion. This action stimulates saliva production, up to 45 gallons per day, that helps to maintain proper pH levels for rumen function.
  4. Most digestion in cattle occurs through bacteria and protozoa present in the rumen that digest feedstuffs to produce nutrients that the animal utilizes. The lining of the rumen is filled with finger-like projections called papillae that increase absorption capacity of the products of microbial digestion.
  5. Cattle are able to utilize a great number of feed sources because of the rumen microbes. Two basic groups of rumen bacteria exist to digest either structural (cellulose or hemicellulose from forages) or nonstructural (starch from grains) carbohydrates to obtain energy. Other feedstuffs broken down in the rumen include sugar, organic acids, protein or fat.
  6. Volatile Fatty Acids are the major products of rumen digestion and supply 80% of the animal’s energy requirements. The primary VFAs produced are acetic acid (60%), propionic acid (up to 20% on a high grain diet), and butyric acid (12-18%). Other products include heat, gases, amino acids and B-complex vitamins.
  7. The digestion of rumen microbes supply 60% of the animal’s protein requirement. To maintain microbial growth and function in the rumen, a minimum of only 7% crude protein from dietary intake is required. Excess protein in the diet is an inefficiency in the cattle diet and is broken down and excreted as ammonia through the urine.
  8. Fistulated cow with nutrition researcher examining rumen contents. Image via

    Fistulated cow with nutrition researcher examining rumen contents. Image via

    The balance of microbe populations in a proper diet keeps rumen pH in a range of 5.8 to 6.4. An abrupt change in major components of cattle diets (i.e. forages to grains), can result in excess acid production, resulting in a condition known as acidosis.  A transition period allows adjustment of rumen microbe populations and prevents this condition.

  9. Much of the information we learn about cattle digestion is learned through research using a fistula. This is a hole placed in the side of a cow where a rubber seal and plug are surgically placed. The plug can be removed and researchers can observe and sample rumen activity and contents. The fistula doesn’t harm or injure the cow and they are rarely used outside of research efforts.
What questions do you have about cattle digestion and the feeds they eat? Leave a comment below or email This is part of a month-long series of 10 Things to Know about Cattle. To read other posts in the series, click the image below.
Click this image to view all posts in the 30-day blogging series, 10 Things to Know About Cattle

Click this image to view all posts in the 30-day blogging series, 10 Things to Know About Cattle