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Cattle and rumination

Sustainable meat: a question of the stomach

The difference between animals and humans is evident from various aspects, among these is the shape of the stomach which allows ruminants to digest the cellulose present in vegetables. Moreover, the definition of ruminant also derives from one of the areas of the cattle stomach, the rumen.

Who are ruminants?

The animals that fall into this category are cattle, sheep, deer, camelids and goats. Even the calf - in the phase of growth and transformation into a bovine, becomes a ruminant - around 3 months, but it is not a birth characteristic since in the first phase of life it feeds on milk. Being ruminant is in fact a prerogative of animals that feed mainly on grass and hay.

Biology and the 4 stomachs

School studies are useful, sometimes we realize it too late, other times we choose to ignore this always fashionable maxim. Therefore, studying the physiology of animals is essential to better understand how the stomach of cattle works. The rumination phase represents the most important moment and at the same time is also the longest, lasting between 8 and 12 hours a day.

In this phase the 4 stomachs come into play:

  • rumen
  • lattice
  • omaso
  • abomasum

Without going overboard with the explanation, just think that each stomach has its own specific task and exists to allow the animal to avoid stuffing itself and be able to graze in complete tranquility.

Rumination, what? Here's what happens

Grazing beef cattle is the perfect time to choose the freshest blades of grass or the crunchiest hay, but this phase is - as mentioned before - a part. In practice it works like this: the cow grazes the blades of grass which it swallows - through the esophagus - ending up straight in the rumen. When she is full, or tired of grazing, she lies down and begins the rumination phase. The action is "conscious" and under the control of the animal, and includes the recall of the blades of grass kept in the rumen into the mouth so as to continue the actual chewing and be able to start the digestion phase which will start again from the rumen.

The second phase is supported by a macrobiotic action, a sort of fermentation that allows the animal to process ingested and correctly chewed foods. Once the process is activated, the compound passes to the subsequent stomachs called reticulum, omasum and abomasum where the breakdown of elements, the assimilation of nutrients and the continuation of digestion takes place.

Lattice and mixture

The second step is through the cap or grating. This is when the macrobiotic action occurs which is often associated with rumination. The lattice is fundamental and thanks to its small size it guarantees detailed control of the previously chewed compound ready for the next step. The cap is also responsible for the macrobiotic action, i.e. the addition and production of bacteria which will only be taken into consideration and broken down at a later time.

At this moment it is essential to be able to reduce the size of the food that reaches this stomach as much as possible and to be able to proceed smoothly with the other phases essential for the assimilation of the nutritional principles. Cattle, or rather ruminants, feed mainly on grass - especially those raised with traditional methods - sometimes hay is added to the diet to make the nutrition complete and homogeneous.

Omasus and selection

The compound arriving from the rumen reaches the third stomach, the omasum, where some substances are assimilated by the body. Specifically they are water, sodium and phosphorus. The peculiarity of the second stomach is connected to the size of the food it receives which, thanks to the previous passage, does not exceed 2 mm. The size is essential because it allows the passage to the next stomach called abomasum.

Assimilation is also another factor of considerable importance that allows the bovine to assimilate with the right slowness the nutrients necessary both for the continuation of the process and for its own well-being. Precisely for this reason it is essential that the animal's nutrition is as natural as possible, only in this way is it possible to guarantee the correct intake of essential elements and offer the right well-being to the animal.

Abomasum and second digestion

The abomasum is the fourth stomach which, exactly like the previous ones, plays its own specific essential role in the digestive process. In fact, acid digestion takes place in this stomach, i.e. the - now decomposed - food compound is enriched with hydrochloric acid necessary to digest the fats and proteins ignored in the previous processes. The bacteria in the rumen are very numerous, they can reach - in times of great commitment - even 2.5 kg, in short it is a rather demanding job!

The abomasum is also called the true stomach, or rather the previous ones are indispensable passages that cross the forestomachs, since it is here that the division with proteins takes place, it is in this moment that all - absolutely all - the nutrients are assimilated and this which is of no use is sent to the intestine which… well that's another story. Now, if the real stomach received food directly, it would struggle to resolve the entire process and would risk engulfing the animal which spends most of its day grazing and choosing the best grass.

Digestion recap

Now that we have said a lot about beef, we need to do a little recap to brush up on the always useful and curious theoretical notions. The bovine therefore has 3 forestomachs and a stomach, the first are directed towards the preparation - each with its own task - for the preparation of the nutritional compound which will reach the stomach and then be definitively assimilated. Each stomach or forestomach has its own task and value, and is essential for the right process.

Now we have clarified why the cattle have 4 stomachs and what each of them is for. The theoretical notions for today end here, we need to go back to address other topics that include delicacies and little gems. What we need to remember is the difference between Italian organic meat and the industrial supply chain, just as it is important to choose sustainable meat aware of what the animal eats and what consequently ends up on our plate.