Dairy and feedlot management can be more of an art form than a science due to a lack of quantitative feedback in real time. One way of obtaining additional information about ruminant health is through the measurement of its stomach contents. When making alterations to animal management to improve dairy and beef production, pH measurements may provide higher resolution feedback than production rates and can help diagnose health issues before they become problems.

How to Measure Cow Stomach pH

The pH within the rumen is low, but should not be too low, and maintaining a good pH keeps animals healthy and productive. Looking directly at the chemistry within the rumen provides feedback on the effects of various management strategies. Cow stomachs are assessed by measurement of fluid in the rumen. The rumen is the largest chamber in the cow’s digestion system and can be sampled by a tube fed to the esophagus. Stomach contents can also be evaluated for appearance and bacterial content.

Sampling must be spaced as to be humane to the animal, so continuous measurement should not be achieved through physical sampling and measurement. However, wireless data transmission for on-line, continuous measurement of rumen pH via indwelling measurement units and data loggers (manufactured by DASCOR) is available. While telemetry data has not been used commercially for pH measurements in beef or milk production, it is routinely used for temperature tracking. DASCOR’s data loggers have been used in numerous international research studies and has produced important findings. For instance, measurements have revealed that rumen pH can vary by 2.5 pH points over the course of various feedings throughout the day.

Rumen pH Indicators

Rumen pH provides feedback on the health of the animal as a result of feeding types and schedules. A common problem in cattle is lactic acidosis, which results from feedstocks high in sugar and starch. Acidosis, mainly the condition known as SARA (subacute rumen acidosis), results in detrimental animal health. SARA is diagnosed by a very low rumen pH. Normal pH of the rumen is neutral, around 6–7. Acidosis is diagnosed for rumen pH below 5.5. Slightly low rumen pH indicates a high grain diet, but not to the point of rumen acidosis. Slightly high pH can indicate underfeeding, while very high pH can indicate a serious condition of putrification. However, high pH readings can also result from contamination of the rumen fluid with saliva during sampling.

Adjusting Rumen pH

Cow stomach pH can be altered by management changes including changing the feeding supply and scheduling. The time and location of feedings affect digestive health. It is also possible for a minor ingredient to significantly affect stomach pH. The best method of managing cow pH for herd health is to make small changes and monitor stomach pH for shifts. The specific interactions between feed type, feed times, and the herd will manifest in the stomach pH. Optimizing farm management leads to overall reductions in costs and maximization of dairy output.

Sensorex is a trusted partner of DASCOR, a leader in online data logging of various rumen parameters and instrumentation for water quality measurements.

If you are interested in learning more about autonomous free ranging data loggers against traditional sampling methods, please visit www.dascor.com