Introduction to Digestion in Farm Animals

Digestion in animals involves mechanical, enzymatic, and microbial processes in the gastrointestinal tract, which convert large feed particles to a size which can be absorbed, transported, and used by the animals. The digestive systems of all farm animals are not the same, rendering them less competitive and able to adapt to a wide range of available feed resource niches. Based on the structure and functions of the digestive tract, farm animals are divided into two major groups:  ruminants or polygastrics, e.g. cattle, buffaloes, sheep, and goats; and non-ruminants or monogastrics, e.g. horses, donkeys, rabbits, dogs and cats. The key difference between these two groups of animals lies in the structure of the stomach. Ruminants, as opposed to non ruminants, have three additional stomach compartments where digestion takes place in different environments. In general, for farm animals the processes associated with digestion include prehension, ingestion, grinding or mastication, digestion of feed, absorption of nutrients, and excretion of waste products.