What is Your Cow's Poop Telling You?

Jul 14, 2020

Tara Jo Bina
Countryside Feed Livestock Nutrition
As a nutritionist, I enjoy looking at what comes out of the animal almost as much as what goes in! Looking at manure is one way to “listen” to what cows are trying to tell you. Consistently and regularly evaluating manure allows you to spot changes easily. There are a few ways to evaluate manure: simply kicking over piles and look at them while walking pens or washing a sample through a strainer.

Some concerning characteristics to consider while walking pens are:
  • Recognizable pieces of undigested feed?: Silage, grass, whole cotton seed, etc. coming through the cow indicates the cow is not retaining feed in the rumen for proper digestion.
  • Visible corn particles: Corn that is not ground fine enough may not be fully utilized. Often adjusting the grind of corn will help this problem (just be sure there is enough effective fiber in the diet for the change). Corn silage that is not kernel processed can also result in whole kernels of corn ending up in manure.
  • Bubbly appearance: Bubbles in the manure typically indicate excess fermentation after feed leaves the rumen. Although fermentation in the rumen and hid gut produce similar end products, less nutrients are able to be absorbed by the animal in the hind gut.
  • Diarrhea: This can be due to disease or rations. Take into consideration other observations to decide what to look at first. Problems caused by feed can be related to hind gut fermentation, moldy or spoiled feed, acidosis, etc.
  • Mucin casts: The mucus lining of the large intestine can be sloughed as a result of damage to the intestinal wall. Mucin casts are usually observed in acidosis cases.
  • Variability across the herd: Manure should be consistent across animal consuming the same diet. If there is much variation in manure appearance typical culprits are cows sorting feed causing the animals to eat different rations and cows eating moldy or spoiled feed.
Keep in mind manure is just one piece to the puzzle. When deciding if manure is a problem also take into account body condition score, mobility, forage analyses, feed particle size, bunk cleanliness, water availability, stress, etc.

Contact your Countryside Feed representative to discuss how your dairy’s manure should look and possible ration changes if needed!

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