Indicators of Feed Intake in Cattle Sheep and Goats

Nutrition is a major pillar of livestock production. Cattle, sheep and goats are mainly kept and reared for milk and meat. They are able to convert the feeds they eat into these products. The amount of milk they produce and their growth rates are very dependent and proportionate to the amount and quality of food they eat.

This article will discuss the various indicators of feed intake in ruminants (cattle, sheep and goats). These are what we see in animals feeding well and those that are not; the signs will therefore tell animals with underlying diseases or those that are offered insufficient feeds. The indicators include: –

  1. Rumen fill.

The Rumen is the first and the largest stomach compartment in ruminants. It covers a major part of the left side of the animal’s abdomen. It’s a good indicator of dry matter intake over the last 12 hours. To assess the ruminal fill, check the left side of the cow, sheep and or goat between the last rib and the hooks; the ruminal fossa or paralumbar fossa. The fossa usually distends and is not even visible when the rumen is full of ingesta, with time the fill diminishes and the fossa again become pronounced. This depends on the passage of food from the abomasum to the intestine.

The Danger triangle, is a pronounced ruminal fossa formed when the rumen is empty. It forms when the animal hasn’t been eating due to an ongoing disease process or the animal isn’t offered enough food.

Ruminal fill is affected by pregnancy during which the fossa is not even visible due to the growing fetus.

2. Abdominal fill.

Abdominal fill refers to the distension or downward curve of the ventral abdomen from the xiphoid cartilage of the sternum to the udder. This fill is an indicator of feed intake over the past one week. A poor abdominal fill therefore will therefore indicate that the animal has not been feeding well for the last one week.

Image 1: A photo showing the ruminal/paralumbar fossa in a cow (notice also the distension of the ventral abdomen; the abdominal fill)

3. Body condition.

This refers to the thinness or fatness of an animal. It estimates the amount of fat below the tail head between the pin bones, over the hips and the fat covering the ribs. It is an indicator of feeding over a period of weeks or months. The changes in the body fats occur in a matter of weeks or months. An animal with poor body condition means it has not been feeding well over time.

Image 2: A photo of a cow with poor body condition, notice prominent ribs and hooks due to poor fat coverings.

                Dr. Ngetich (BVM, UoN)

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