Ruminal acidosis is the name given to a range of health disorders affecting dairy cattle. The condition upsets the correct acidic balance in a cow's rumen.
Ruminal acidosis can drastically reduce weight gain and at worst, may cause death. It is especially comment in cattle fed on high quality pasture and grain.
Maintaining a stable rumen environment will reduce the risk of acidosis and allow your cows to produce milk well. The following farm facts sheets are designed to help protect your herd from ruminal acidosis, recognise its signs and know what to do if it occurs.
Healthy Cows (PDF, 242KB)
General health overview. New feeds, diets, feeding practices and smaller feed-out areas can increase the risk of herd health problems. The main issues are mastitis from faecal contamination of teat ends, lameness from hoof damage and ruminal acidosis from a poorly formulated and mixed diet or competition for trough space. These and other disorders will reduce milk production and animal welfare. Be prepared to manage the increased risk.
In normal circumstances your herd may not be at high risk of developing acidosis. However, drought conditions force many farmers to change their feeding practices. Use this Risk Assessment Grid to make sure you are not inadvertently putting your operation at high risk. Read the options in the three columns of this grid and highlight the box that best describes what happens on your farm.
Quick checks (PDF, 365KB)
Is the rumen stable? A stable rumen environment is important to reducing the risk of acidosis and allowing cows to produce milk well. We can't see what's going on inside the rumen, but we can use visual clues to assess how well an animal is coping with the diet. Regular observations are valuable if you pay attention to the details, record the information and are ready to act when changes occur.
Feed additives (PDF, 164KB)
Feed additives are for prevention, not treatment. They are not a substitute for good feeding management but can play a role in managing the risk of acidosis associated with low effective fibre and high grain/concentrate diets.
Feed additives work in different ways. Many farmers are unsure of the differences between buffers, neutralising agents and rumen modifiers. A recent study revealed that more than 50% of farmers are not supplying correct amounts of additives per cow per day. You miss out on the benefits if the additive dose rates in your feed aren't right for your daily per cow feeding rate.
Review for vets and nutritionalists. Ruminal acidosis is increasingly recognised as a significant disorder of ruminants. This condition increases the morbidity and mortality of stock, markedly reduces weight gains in the feedlot, complicates drought feeding strategies for sheep and cattle, and is increasingly recognised in pastoral and confined dairying. It may be the most significant health disorder of ruminants fed on high-quality pastures and grain.
The aims of this review are to evaluate the current knowledge of the patho-physiology of acidosis, and provide practical information on the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of the condition in beef and dairy cattle, and sheep.
Aspects of acidosis of relevance to the feed industry and veterinary practice are also examined, including the prudent use of antibiotics, both in the treatment and prevention of sequelae to the disorder.