Review: Markers and proxies to monitor ruminal function and feed efficiency in young ruminants

Long Cheng, Gonzalo Cantalapiedra-Hijar, Sarah Meale, Innocent Rugoho, Arjan Jonker, M.A. Khan, Omar Al-Marashdeh, RJ Dewhurst

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
101 Downloads (Pure)


Developing the rumen's capacity to utilise recalcitrant and low-value feed resources is important for ruminant production systems. Early-life nutrition and management practices have been shown to influence development of the rumen in young animals with long-term consequences on their performance. Therefore, there has been increasing interest to understand ruminal development and function in young ruminants to improve feed efficiency, health, welfare, and performance of both young and adult ruminants. However, due to the small size, rapid morphological changes and low initial microbial populations of the rumen, it is difficult to study ruminal function in young ruminants without major invasive approaches or slaughter studies. In this review, we discuss the usefulness of a range of proxies and markers to monitor ruminal function and nitrogen use efficiency (a major part of feed efficiency) in young ruminants. Breath sulphide and methane emissions showed the greatest potential as simple markers of a developing microbiota in young ruminants. However, there is only limited evidence for robust indicators of feed efficiency at this stage. The use of nitrogen isotopic discrimination based on plasma samples appeared to be the most promising proxy for feed efficiency in young ruminants. More research is needed to explore and refine potential proxies and markers to indicate ruminal function and feed efficiency in young ruminants, particularly for neonatal ruminants.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100337
Issue number10
Early online date17 Sept 2021
Publication statusPrint publication - Oct 2021


  • body measures
  • breath sulphide and methane
  • faecal lipids
  • nitrogen isotopes
  • purine derivatives


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