News & Advice

Rumen development: Filling with villi

Jul 2, 2019 | Dairy, Young Stock

Hanneke Officer, Veterinarian, Anexa Vet Services

“Eh what?” I can hear you say! Well, let me explain – villi are the fingerlike structures inside our intestines that are responsible for the absorption of nutrients. Cows have them too, but the villi in the rumen are not present from birth and have to be nurtured in order to grow.
Stimulation of the inside of the rumen with meal and fibre feeding results in the growth of villi. The inside of the rumen starts off as a smooth, flat surface (see the left side of the photo). This surface is responsible for the absorption of nutrients from the diet.

To optimise growth we want to:

  • maximize the nutrients that are absorbed from the feed through 
  • increase the available surface to absorb nutrients 
  • This is where villi come in. 

As mentioned, they look like fingers and basically extend the surface of the rumen inwards to increase the total surface size.
As you can see below, hay (fibre) provides mild stimulation, but meal is most important in achieving growth of the villi.
So yes, while meal may cost money up front, it will more than pay for itself in the long run. Meal not only increases the growth of the villi, allowing better absorption of nutrients (and hence better feed conversion post-weaning), but there is also a direct benefit pre-weaning as meal directly acts as an additional feed source alongside milk.

We recommend:

  • Meal and hay from day 1 
  • Fresh water daily to help digestion and palatability 

Remember: calves are the future of your herd with a lot of potential derived from genetic selection. If they don’t have the tools (villi) to ruminate properly, they won’t do anything properly.

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