The application of pH observations to clinical practice in dairy cattle is based on criteria derived primarily from single time-point observations more than 20 years ago. The aims of this study were to evaluate these criteria using data collected using continuous recording methods; to make recommendations that might improve their interpretation; and to determine the relationship between the number of devices deployed in a herd and the accuracy of the resulting estimate of the herd-mean reticuloruminal pH. The study made use of 815,475 observations of reticuloruminal pH values obtained from 75 cattle in three herds (one beef and two twice-daily milking herds) to assess sampling strategies for the diagnosis of sub-acute rumen acidosis (SARA), and to evaluate the ability of different numbers of bolus devices to accurately estimate the true herd-mean reticuloruminal pH value at any time. The traditional criteria for SARA provide low diagnostic utility, the probability of detection of animals with pH values below specified thresholds being affected by a strong effect of time of day and herd. The analysis suggests that regardless of time of feeding, sampling should be carried out in the late afternoon or evening to obtain a reasonable probability of detection of animals with pH values below the threshold level. The among-cow variation varied strongly between herds, but for a typical herd, if using reticuloruminal pH boluses to detect a predisposition to fermentation disorders while feeding a diet that is high in rapidly fermentable carbohydrates, it is recommended to use a minimum of nine boluses.