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Two common abomasal conditions in cattle

The abomasum is one of the ruminants four stomachs. It is often referred to as the true stomach. In young calves, it is the main stomach that digests milk and gets its nutrition through. As the rumen develops up to weaning time, direction shifts to the rumen.

In adult animals, the abomasum still plays an important role in digestion using chemical breakdown of nutrients.

So there are two common conditions we see one in calves and the other in adult dairy cows.

Abomasal bloat

Abomasal bloat typically affects dairy calves between 1-4  weeks of age. It can progress rapidly and requires urgent attention. The calf’s abdomen swells up putting huge pressure on its respiratory and circulatory system.

With the feeding of more milk replacer, we are definitely seeing more issues with this condition. A lot of this can be down to how we manage and use our milk replaces inappropriately.

The bloat is caused by an excess build-up of gas and slower abomasal emptying.


Treating these cases we need to relieve the gas and slow the development of it. Most gas is produced from an excess proliferation of bacteria from slower stomach emptying times.

Stomach tubing will often lead to poor resolutions and we must use a needle to relieve the gas. Talk to your own vet about how you would carry this procedure out correctly. Many vets will prescribe oral penicillin-type antibiotics to kill any bacterial proliferation. These calves may require fluid treatment if they are in shock.


Prevention is the name of the game

Nature leaves us some clues when it comes to abomasal bloat. A calf will naturally suckle regularly up to 8-12 times daily. Whole milk is 12.5 % solids and this is the consistent osmolality we aim to replicate with milk replacer. In nature, milk is being suckled from a clean teat (hygiene) and the calf while suckling will produce a lot of saliva.

This suckling leads to closure of the oesophageal groove and bypasses the rumen. A calf must work hard to suckle and this helps saliva production.


So in modern dairy systems feeding milk replacer, we must be mindful to take some lessons from nature. When resolving bloat issues we must step by step look at the risk factors.

We can get great results with milk replacer when we use it correctly.


  • Milk replacer vs whole milk
  • Feeding time and temperature, consistency is absolutely key to both of these
  • The osmolality of milk, high concentrations could lead to slower abomasal emptying which may increase the risk. This involves carefully assessing mixing routines and measuring the specific gravity where necessary.
  • Feeding volumes (smaller more regular feeds). Where we move calves to once a day feeding too quickly we may see issues.
  • Hygiene score for feeders and equipment preventing bacteria like Clostridia
  • Teat function size and flow rate, where we are using automatic feeders check teat size and hole bore to ensure we stimulate more natural suckling. Change teats regularly and make sure the calf has to do a little work to get their milk.
  • Plenty fresh water and good starter from 1-2 days of age
  • Any other electrolytes like glucose that might affect the concentration or osmolality of the milk in the stomach
  • Review overall management also

Where we investigate bloat issues they can be a number of small tweaks that need to be implemented. Where it is occurring on automatic feeders. Check hygiene of the milk pipes, ensure correct mixing concentrations, and get the right teats on your machines.

With all feeding equipment ensure good hygiene to prevent bacteria like Clostridium and Sarcina species.

The big message is dig into the consistency in feeding where abomasal bloat occurs.


Displaced abomasums

The abomasum in the adult animal still plays an important role in digestive function. One condition we see after calving is where this abomasum becomes displaced and fills with gas. With the stomach displacing on either side there can be two different outcomes.

A right displaced abomasum is a veterinary emergency, especially when twisted. These cows will get sick quickly and be very depressed. They need surgery and aggressive fluid therapy.

A much more common displacement is on the left-sided displacement. These ladies can present with less specific symptoms and be a slower disease progression.

These cows can go off their milk (2-21 days) after calving. They often stop eating meal in the parlor. They often can have other clinical conditions like metritis or other issues.

They will always be ketotic and will show high BHB readings on the ketometer.

They also require surgical correction and respond well when got early.

Prevention is key

A large number of displacements indicate underlying issues with transition management. The two big factors we need to investigate with an increase in LDAs are dry matter intake in your freshly calved cows and subclinical hypocalcemia. So anything that will reduce rumen fill especially in the days post-calving can lead to a smaller rumen and risk of a displaced abomasum. Equally, low blood calcium can cause muscle weakness and lead to an increase in stomach displacements.

The target for any farm should be to have less than 1% of displacements. Your larger higher-yielding HF cow will be more prone to this condition and may have a herd target of 2% or less.










A glucogenic energy source for reduction of the risk of ketosis.


Thought for the day 

Consistency is key in dairy farming systems.


Huge thanks to Nettex for their support in putting #50in50 together for more information click here https://www.net-tex.co.uk/products/cattle-calves/cattle-calf-nutrition-range/keto-gold



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