Although subacute rumen acidosis (SARA) is typically thought of as a disease of adult dairy cows, Dr. Jim Quigley with Provimi North America says two recent studies have shown that calves often experience rumen pH of lower than 5.8, the cut point for SARA in adult dairy animals.

 The cause of SARA in calves is complex, but may be due to small dietary particle size; high dietary carbohydrate content; and/or low salivary buffer production. And what are the effects? Quigley says the condition can cause:

  • Impaired ability to digest fiber, due to inhibited growth of fiber-digesting bacteria in the rumen.
  • Inconsistent eating patterns, possibly caused by high-starch diets which lead to high rates of fermentation. This leads to digestive upset that causes calves to go off feed one day, then eat aggressively again when they feel overly hungry, then once again experience digestive upset.
  • Impaired growth due to both of the above factors.

While there is no single solution to preventing SARA in calves, Quigley says two important preventive measures include:

  • Ensuring that calves receive ample, free choice water at all times, because water helps carry small feed particles out of the rumen and promotes digestive consistency.
  • Monitoring carbohydrate content of calf diets to ensure that calves are not consuming exceedingly high levels.

Read more from Quigley on SARA in calves.