The Real Reason Goats Chew Cud

Goats eat, chew, chew some more, and then eat again on an almost endless cycle. So, is this rumination process a healthy sign in goats? And why do they do it?

Goats ruminate, or “chew cud,” as part of their digestive system. Once they regurgitate larger food particles, they break them down better as they chew, which helps them digest fibrous food that would otherwise be hard on their stomachs.

Now let’s “break down” how and why goats chew cud, what you can do to keep their rumen healthy, and what it means when they don’t chew cud.

Ruminant Mammals

We humans have one stomach chamber that does all the work. Goats have four stomach chambers. They are called the:

  • Reticulum
  • Rumen
  • Omasum
  • Abomasum

We’ll focus on the reticulum and rumen chambers since they’re the most relevant to the reason behind chewing cud.

When goats eat, they basically grab any and all kinds of plants they can get their teeth on, which includes large leaves, plants, grass, bark, grain, and hay. Goats don’t bother chewing a lot when they initially eat, so much of the food they swallow goes down without much thought.

Food first reaches the reticulum chamber once swallowed. The reticulum and the rumen work together to pass food back and forth between chambers during the digestion process. Smaller food particles enter into the rumen for fermentation, and larger food particles are sent back by the reticulum for regurgitation.

Thanks to a goat’s bidirectional esophagus, food easily delivers back into the goat’s mouth. It’s in this part of digestion that we get what is known as chewing cud.

Goats go through the food they ate again to break apart pieces that are too big for the rumen. Because they can do this, they are also able to increase the surface area of fiber in the food, which means it can be broken down in the rumen for better digestion and nutrient extraction.

Because humans don’t have this digestive method, we can’t handle fiber as well as goats.

Once the food is adequately rechewed, the goat will swallow again for the reticulum to reevaluate what can now pass into the rumen.

Bacteria in the rumen takes apart fibrous particles to extract vitamins and proteins essential to goat health. After this step finishes, the food then goes to the omasum and abomasum, then finally to the small intestine.

When Goats Ruminate

Goats can only chew cud when they are resting. So, when you see a goat lying down and chewing even though you haven’t seen them eating, then they are going through their natural digestive process.

Healthy rumination sounds like a stomach growling. This occurs one to three times per minute. Although there isn’t an exact science to when goats ruminate, they will often do so between meals, and many goats in a herd have a synchronized cud chewing period.

At the beginning of a goat’s life, the reticulum, rumen, and omasum have yet to fully develop and digest food the way adult goats do. This basically leaves them with the abomasum, the “true stomach” of the digestive system, which operates similarly to stomach humans have.

During this time in a goat’s life, the abomasum chamber absorbs antibodies and distributes nutrients that comes from goat milk. It’s only when the baby goat begins to eat solid food such as hay and grass that the other chambers are spurred on to develop.

When the rumen has adequately developed, baby goats can wean from their mother. Then they, too, join the ranks of cud chewers.

How To Promote Rumination

Goats are able to eat food sources that other ruminants are not able to, so you may be inclined to allow them to eat whatever they please.

That being said, goats will have better results in their rumen when they have unlimited access to grass and other plants, which should be the main supplement of a goat’s diet. If your goats can’t eat them on a regular basis, then they should be able to graze as they please on a supply of hay in their enclosures. A healthy combination of both will suit goat rumen.

If you feed your goats grain, be careful that it should act as a supplement and not as a main source of nutrients. When your goats are overfed on grain, it can cause an imbalance in the rumen’s pH levels, which can lead to health problems down the road.

Baking soda helps a goat’s rumen get back on track if it turns too acidic and fails to synthesize B vitamins and other types. Before you worry over how you’re going to administer baking soda to a goat, good news! Goats like baking soda as they like other minerals, so they’ll graze on a pile of it as much as they need to.

Probiotics are another essential supplement for a healthy rumen. If a goat’s rumen is lacking in the bacteria that keeps it strong, probiotics will boost the system.

Why Your Goat Isn’t Ruminating

When you check on a goat’s rumen, you can press your ear or a stethoscope to the left side of the stomach. Even when their food isn’t being sent back and forth, a healthy rumen will constantly growl.

Lack of noise or long intervals between noises is a red flag. You may have already noticed your goat acting differently prior to checking on their rumen, but whether or not it shows visible signs of illness, you need to treat your goat with supplements or take them to the vet for examination.

A sick goat suffering from bloat or other illnesses will fail to chew cud, which may be one of several signs of sickness.

Other noticeable signs are:

  • Shivering
  • Isolation from herd
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose
  • Pale gums

Many digestive problems begin in the rumen and can quickly escalate within a matter of hours, so it’s better to take preventative measures and keep your goats healthy rather than wait until it’s too late to do anything.

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