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Ruminant Animals

By: Tabitha Mishra
| Last updated: June 18, 2022

What Does Ruminant Animals Mean?

Ruminants are herbivorous animals that digest their food multiple times, chewing and regurgitate grass or vegetation more than once and digesting it in various chambers of their stomachs.

In addition to their elaborate digestive system, ruminants are characterized by being quadrupeds with even toes and split hooves. Cattle, sheep, buffalo, yak, antelopes, giraffes, bison, moose, elk, alpacas, llamas, and camels all fit in this category.

Safeopedia Explains Ruminant Animals

Ruminant animals are mammals of the suborder Ruminantia. They play a significant role in agriculture, as they are widely farmed for meat, milk, and other products.

Ruminants are a valuable part of sustainable agricultural systems and a key link in the human food chain, since humans cannot directly use many of the plants that grow on earth. More than 50% of the energy in cereal crops grown for food, for instance, is inedible to humans. By consuming this plant matter, ruminants raised for meat and milk essentially convert the energy and nutritients in those plants to foods human can consume.

Ruminant animals also provide manure to fertilize crops and draught power to aid in agricultural work.

The Ruminant's Multi-Chambered Stomach

Ruminant stomachs have four chambers: the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum, and the abomasum. The rumen and reticulum are connected and are sometimes called reticulorumen, as they work in concert.

  • The rumen is the largest stomach compartment and can hold more than 25 gallons of material. It acts as a storage and fermentation compartment for feed.
  • The reticulum is a pouch-like structure that collects feed that has been broken down and moves it to the other chambers of the stomach.
  • The omasum is a globe-shaped structure with leaves of tissue that absorbs water and other substances from digestive content.
  • The abomasum is lined with glands that release hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes that break down the feed. It is similar to a non-ruminant's stomach.

The Ruminant's Digestive Process

Since ruminants have a four-chambered stomach, their digestive process goes through a series of steps:

  • Feed is chewed, mixed with saliva, and swallowed
  • The chewed feed enters the reticulum and rumen, where solids and liquids are separated and microbes break down cellulose
  • Solids are formed into bolus, small round clumps of digested food that is also called cud
  • The cud is regurgitated back into the ruminant's mouth where it is chewed a second time, swallowed, returned to the reticulorumen to be processed again
  • Liquids digested in the rumen pass to the omasum where nutrients and water are absorbed into the bloodstream
  • Digested materials are then passed into the abomasum where enzymes break them down and nutrients are absorbed
  • Any remaining substances then move through the large and small intenstines
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