Rumen microbes and methane

January 2014

The rumen microbes are critical to the animal's health and performance. The reason cattle can survive on fiber rich diets are the rumen microbes. In ruminants, the role of the rumen and gastrointestinal tract microbes are critical to the animal's performance as these microbes provide the animal with it's nutritional needs in the form of volatile fatty acids and microbial cell protein. The microbial community that reside within the rumen digest the feed consumed by the cattle through a process known as fermentation in the absence of oxygen to produce the volatile fatty acids (VFAs).

In addition to VFA production, some of the microbes in the rumen utilize the by-products produced during fermentation (CO2 and H2) to produce methane (CH4). The CH4 production is performed by a group of bacteria known as methanogens. As methane production involves in removal of carbon from the rumen, increased methane production can lead to a decrease in the animal's performance. Therefore, reducing methane production in cattle will lead to increased performance, resulting in economic benefits to the cattle producer.

Samodha Fernando
Assistant Professor
Animal Science
University of Nebraska–Lincoln