Ruminant Animals: Characteristics, Digestive System and Anatomy

Ruminant Animals – Surely Sinaumed’s is no stranger to the existence of cattle? Yep, this four-legged animal that likes to eat grass as well as produce milk must often be found around where you live, or even Sinaumed’s also keeps these herbivorous animals at home?

When meeting cows in person, did Sinaumed’s ever notice that the animal was always chewing, even though at that time its mouth was not filled with food. Well, cows are included in the ruminant animal group, you know… Which group of animals has a digestive system that is unique and of course different from the group of mammals. Most of these ruminant animals consume plants as their main food, therefore it is clear that cows are included in this group of animals.

Then what is a ruminant animal? Why is the digestive system of ruminants called unique? What are the unique facts about these ruminant animals? So, so that Sinaumed’s isn’t curious about these things, let’s look at the following review!

Definition of Ruminant Animals

Etymologically, the word ” ruminants ” comes from the Latin, namely ” Ruminae ” which means chewing again . In animal husbandry and zoology, ruminants are ruminants, which are herbivores with a two-step digestive system. However, all herbivorous animals are not included in this group of ruminants. This is because the main characteristic of ruminants is that they have two chewing phases before their food can be digested in the stomach.

Examples of ruminant animals are mostly livestock, namely cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo, antelope, bison, bull, anoa deer, and giraffes. The last six animals are not livestock but are still ruminants.

Since the digestive system in these ruminant animals has two chewing phases, it must seem “longer” in the digestive process. However, this group of animals actually has the advantage of this, because their digestion becomes more efficient, especially when absorbing the nutrients contained in food, with the help of microorganisms in their stomachs. Herbivorous animals that are not included in this group of ruminants are camels and llamas.

Characteristics of Ruminant Animals

It should be noted that all herbivorous animals are not necessarily included in this ruminant animal, nor are mammals included in this group of animals. So, here are the characteristics of ruminant animals:

  • In his stomach there are four chambers and feet with a total of only two fingers.
  • Have reduced or even absent upper incisors.
  • Usually eats or chews grass quickly, then spits it back up and eats it again.
  • Inside the stomach has four compartments, namely rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum.

Digestive System of Ruminant Animals

Digestion is the process of decomposing or breaking down previously chewed food materials into the forms of nutrients needed by living things. In ruminant animals, the digestive system is called unique because in their stomach they have a double stomach, so the process is longer and more complex.

The fundamental difference between the digestive system of ruminants and other animals is that this group of animals has a tooth structure, namely the rear molars (molars) are large and function to chew grass which is difficult to digest. The double stomach in question is not two in number, but four parts, namely the rumen (large stomach), reticulum (mesh stomach), omasum (book stomach), and abomasum (sour stomach).

Not only that, in the stomachs of ruminant animals there are cellulotic bacteria that produce B vitamins, amino acids, and methane gas (CH4) which can be used in the process of making biogas as an alternative energy source.

Basically, the digestive process in ruminant animals starts from the grass that is eaten, chewed, and swallowed to the esophagus. After that, the food will enter the first part of the stomach, namely the rumen as a “temporary warehouse” for food that has been suppressed. In the rumen, protein digestion will occur, then it will be passed on to the second part of the stomach, the reticulum. In the reticulum, food is formed into coarse lumps called a bolus.

Usually, when these ruminant animals are relaxing, the bolus containing the reticulum will be regurgitated back into the mouth, which is then chewed a second time. After the process of understanding the second time, the food will be swallowed again and passed on to the third part of the stomach, namely the omasum. In the omasum, there will be enzyme production mixed with the bolus. After the food is destroyed, the cellulose will also be destroyed, which is then passed on to the small intestine, then to the large intestine, until it ends in the anus.

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Wow, it turns out that the digestive process of ruminants is really complex ! So, here is the anatomy of the digestive system in the body of a ruminant animal, taking the example of a cow and its functions.

Anatomy of the Digestive System of Cattle Ruminants and Its Functions


1. Oral Cavity

As with the digestive process of other animals that are not ruminant animals, digestion is first carried out in the mouth. Yep, in the mouth of ruminant animals it consists of teeth, tongue, salivary glands (saliva). Part of the salivary glands (saliva) is a complex fluid that has organic components and inorganic components. This saliva has many functions, namely to help swallow and supply microbial nutrients.

Food that enters the mouth will be mechanically crushed with the teeth and a mixture of saliva. In cattle, the saliva they have is 3 pairs of salivary glands, namely:

  • Parotid gland, which is located in front of the ear.
  • Glandula Sumandibularis, which is located in the lower jaw.
  • Glandula Sublingualis, which is located under the tongue.

Cow saliva does not contain the amylase enzyme so that the digestive process only takes place mechanically.

2. Esophagus

It can be said that this esophagus is the esophagus, which is a channel to connect between the oral cavity and the stomach. At the end of this esophageal passage, there is an area called the pharynx. Inside the pharynx there is a valve, namely the epiglottis which regulates so that food does not enter the trachea (throat).

The main function of the esophagus is to transport food to the stomach by peristalsis.

3. Stomach

As with the stomach in general, the stomach in cattle also acts as a large stomach and a place for food that has been chewed. The difference is that the stomach in cows has 4 different rooms, namely the rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum.

a) Rumen

This rumen can be termed as a large pouch which has a capacity of about 80%. Some parts of the rumen have pupils like towels and no glands. In the rumen there are many bacteria that are also useful for the digestion of food, in the form of Cellulose Digestive Bacteria, Hemicellulose Digestive Bacteria, Starch Digestive Bacteria, Sugar Digestive Bacteria, and Protein Digestive Bacteria.

Not only bacteria, in the rumen there are also protozoa, namely Holotricha and Oligotricha. Protozoa Holotricha, which has cilia almost throughout the body of the cow which is useful for digesting fermentable carbohydrates, while Protoza Oligotricha, which has cilia around the mouth and is useful for breaking down carbohydrates that are more difficult to digest. In the rumen there are also functions that are of course beneficial for the digestion of fibrous feed.

b) Reticulum

The reticulum is also often referred to as the mesh stomach and functions as a barrier to feed particles, especially when rumen regurgitation occurs. Regurgitation is a condition where liquid rises to the top of the stomach, if it occurs in humans it is usually a symptom of heartburn.

The shape of the reticulum is like a bee house. This is to prevent foreign objects in the food from moving further into the digestive tract, such as wire. The reticulum is often punctured by sharp animals which is actually fatal for ruminants, because of its position close to the heart.

If Sinaumed’s often consumes beef offal, this part of the reticulum is usually called thick tripe.

c) Omasum

The third part of the stomach in ruminants is the omasum, whose wall surface is folded and rough, with 5 laminae (leaves) that resemble thorns. The lamina is a filter for digestive particles that will later enter the abomasum. Inside the omasum, there will be mixing of feed and water, most of which will be absorbed by the layers of the omasum.

If Sinaumed’s often eats beef offal, this part of the omasum is usually called thin tripe.

d) Abomasum

The abomasum is often referred to as the true stomach, because most of the digestive processes of ruminants occur in this part. In the abomasum wall, there are digestive glands that produce gastric juice containing pepsinogen, salt, inorganic, mucous, hydrochloric acid, for efficient absorption of vitamin B12.

In the abomasum there are also constituent elements of various nutrients produced through the action of gastric juice on bacteria and protozoa. Then, the gastric juice will be absorbed through the small intestine wall.

4. Small intestine

The small intestine in ruminants has three parts, namely the duodenum, jedunum, and ileum. Usually, the length of the small intestine is about 22-30 times the body length of the ruminant animal itself.

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In the duodenum, it produces an alkaline fluid which functions as a lubricant and protects the duodenal wall from hydrochloric acid that enters from the stomach abomasum. This part of the intestine also contains the gallbladder and pancreas.

The digestive process that occurs in the small intestine is in the form of pushing and mixing chyme (liquid food). Cows generally use peristalsis to push chyme in the small intestine.

5. Colon

The large intestine in cattle has 2 basic parts, namely the Cecum (dead-end pouch) and the Colon. In the cecum, it is shaped like a pouch that branches off from the large intestine and is located towards the back. While the Colon has a roll shape like an insect repellent and is located in an upward, flat and downward direction.

In the large intestine, usually the final digestive process will occur, namely in the form of absorption of water and some residual nutrients from food that has been chewed before. In the large intestine, the process of forming feces will also occur, which will later be excreted through the anus.

6. Rectum and Anus

The rectum is the opening where faeces are removed from the body of a cow. Before being discharged through the anus, feces will be accommodated first in the rectum. Now, when the stool is ready to be thrown away, the rectal sphincter muscles will regulate the opening and closing of the anus. The sphincter muscles in this part of the rectum are 2 namely smooth muscle and striated muscle.

Meanwhile, the anus, which acts as a drainage hole, is controlled by the sphincter muscles which also help protect the opening of the anus.

Unique Facts From the Digestive System of Ruminants

The most famous ruminant animal is the cow with its unique and complex digestive system. The uniqueness starts from the anatomy of the organs to the way their digestion works. So, here are some unique facts from the digestive system of cattle ruminants.

1. Digestion of Cows Depends on Microorganisms

Microorganisms contained in the rumen actually play a role in fermentation and breaking down fiber from grass so that it becomes nutrition. The presence of these microorganisms also makes the four sections of the stomach in cattle more efficient. Even so, it turns out that the complexity of the digestive system of cattle is also prone to problems. Several diseases can arise due to the presence of these microorganisms, but this is rare.

2. Cows Need to Burp and Burp Contains Nutrients

Has Sinaumed’s ever heard or seen a cow belching? Yep, he does this to release gas from fermented feed, especially when he has to chew his food again. The gas produced from this fermentation process contains volatile ammonia and fatty acids.

Now, when the cow is about to regurgitate its food, the gas produced will also go up into the esophagus (gullet) and most of the gas will go down to the lungs. Furthermore, the nutrients contained in the burp gas will be absorbed by the lungs, so that the cow will get additional nutrition from inhaling the burp itself.

3. Cows Excrete Saliva a lot

The saliva that is owned and excreted by cows is very large. This is because the cow swallows food without chewing it too much, so the cow will produce a lot of saliva to moisten the feed and it can easily enter the esophagus. As ruminants, cows need saliva to regulate the pH in the rumen.

The cow’s ability to produce saliva in large quantities is also used to cool the body, especially when the weather is hot. Therefore, we often encounter cows licking their backs to cool their bodies.

4. Cows Cannot Cut Their Food By Biting

Despite having large teeth, cows cannot cut their food by biting. This is because cows do not have upper teeth in the middle of their jaws, moreover the structures in the middle of their jaws are just bearing teeth. However, cows can still swing or pull plants (usually grass) until they break.

To cut grass and other plants, the cow will clamp it between the pads of the upper and lower teeth, then pull it. Another way to cut food for a cow is to hook its tongue around a plant and swing it with a head motion. You need to know, Sinaumed’s , that a cow has a strong tongue structure so that it can pull food into its mouth.

5. Cows need a lot of time to ruminate

Sinaumed’s must often not see cows chewing for a long time? Yep, cows need about 5-6 hours just to eat, plus the process of rummaging around 8-10 hours per day. To do this, cows need strong molars and a lot of movement, up to 400,000 movements a day.

6. Cows produce a lot of manure in a day

The main food of cows is grass which is high in fiber but low in nutrients. For once defecating, a cow can excrete about 10-12 times in a period of 24 hours, so that the total excrement that is excreted can reach 22.7 kg per day!