Keeping your cattle eating and drinking at the show is key to having them looking full and, in the case of cows, filling their udders. There are two main culprits—drinking water and reduced rumen function. People have a bag full of tricks from pumping water into the rumen, hauling water from home, arriving at the show early, etc. While many of these options might work and even have valid reasoning behind them, let’s look at what is really going on in the animal.
The water issue is a hard one to work around because show barns have chlorinated water and different treatment plants have water that certainly tastes or smells differently. Short of hauling water from home, the next best thing is to get the cattle to eat and then they will drink. Sometimes it’s the case of the chicken or the egg. Do they not drink because they do not eat or not eat because they do not drink? The key is to get them eating.
Now, before we can understand why they don’t eat and how to get/keep them eating, we need to appreciate rumen function. The rumen is filled with a host of microorganisms, bacteria, anaerobic fungi, protozoa, etc. These microbes ferment feed to energy in the form of volatile fatty acids, which are absorbed and used as energy by the ruminant animal. The microbes require an environment that allows for growth and also something to ferment i.e. energy and protein. When they lack one or both, rumen fermentation is decreased. Even though you fed them before you left home, the availability of the substrates (feed) can become exhausted. Then the growth of the microbes is slowed and the animal goes “off feed”.
The ruminant animal normally spends half its life lying down and chewing its cud. Rumination is essential to the digestive process of mixing and re-chewing the feed. One of the main functions of the rumination process is to increase access to the feed with microbes, but during transportation to the show, rumination time is compromised.
While there are still carbohydrates in the rumen the bacteria may not have access to the particular substrate that they prefer. Different bacteria prefer different types of carbohydrates to ferment, and when they are not available their growth is slowed. The same issue occurs when animals are moved through the sale barn system.
The difficult part is starting rumen function again, or getting it cranking at the level it was before you left home. There are numerous products on the market aimed at jump-starting rumen function. Some have value and some have good marketing. The product that I have the most experience and success with is called Vita Charge and is formulated with a product called Amaferm. It has been shown through research and 50 years of experience to directly stimulate the growth of the microbes to activate the rumen again.
Remembering the rumen and keeping it functioning are the keys to bringing home the purple ribbon.