Cattle manure: A simple and essential rumen health indicator!
Author: Bethany Gardner, InTouch Feeding Specialist
Quick, visual cow muck assessments during daily routines can give you a good indication of rumen health and diet digestibility.
Evaluating your dairy cow or beef cattle manure can help give an early indication of dietary problems that can occur year-round, at any stage of production and across all system types. These can include:
- Too much or too little fibre or starch.
- Excess or insufficient degradable or soluble protein.
- Excess mineral consumption.
- Sorting of a total mixed ration (TMR).
- Mycotoxin presence in the feeds.
- Poor utilisation of ration fractions or ingredients.
Here is our five-point cattle manure scoring system:
Simply look at the consistency across the yard or field and how quickly it is deposited from the cow!
Manure Score 1:
Very liquid, runny, shallow puddles.
This score indicates ruminal acidosis, irritation of the hindgut or even a disease issue.
Manure Score 2:
Manure does not pile, is fairly loose and stands up to 2.5 cm high.
This score indicates ruminal acidosis, irritation of the hindgut or even a disease issue, but less extreme than score 1. High-yielding and fresh cows could score 2 when fed a rich diet or transitioning.
Manure Score 3 (ideal consistency for lactating cows):
Thick, custard-like consistency that stands 4 cm tall. Forms concentric rings and does not stick to boots.
This score signals good rumen health and a well-digested ration. Nothing to worry about here!
Manure Score 4 (ideal consistency for dry cows or in-calf heifers):
Thick manure, well-formed.
In lactating cows, this score is an indication of a possible ration imbalance. This may be a sign that you need to increase the amount of degradable or soluble protein in the ration. Alternatively, it could be an indication of excess fibre in the diet.
Manure Score 5:
Stiff dung balls, stacking easily to 10 cm high.
This score is an indication of a possible ration imbalance and dehydration.
When assessing manure in a group of cows, it would be normal for 5% to have a different manure score from others. If there is greater than 5% variation, cows may be sorting the TMR or consuming clumps of spoiled feed.
Other signals of rumination or digestion issues include:
- Presence of large forage particles or undigested grain in the dung.
- Presence of mucin casings or foam/bubbles in the dung.
- Rumination time below 450–550 minutes per day.
- Suboptimal body weight and condition scoring.
- Yield, milk solid or urea level suppression.
- Higher than normal cell count levels.
If you spot any of these signs, you may need to tweak, reformulate or rebalance your ration to slow down the rate of passage and reduce your feed waste.
For a deeper insight into and evaluation of your cattle manure, the team at Alltech have a three-tiered muck screen. A muck sample — ideally representative of 10% of the herd — is sieved under running water. A sample indicating good rumen health, diet digestibility and feed efficiency should show more than 50% of faecal material in the bottom sieve and minimal undigested material in the top sieves. If the sieve shows a large proportion of undigested material in the form of fibre or wholegrain, it is clear the diet is not being used efficiently, which ultimately reduces profit margins.