The Ruminal Power of Butyrate

May 12, 2020

by Howard Blalock, VP of Technical Services

Butyrate is one of the main 3 volatile fatty acids (VFA) produced during rumen fermentation of feed.  Acetate and propionate are the other two predominant VFA produced and tend to receive the majority of attention when discussing aspects of rumen fermentation.  During typical rumen fermentation, butyrate concentration is expected to be significantly less than that of acetate or propionate.  Despite the lower relative proportion, butyrate is a powerful end product of rumen fermentation.  Butyrate is a preferred energy source of the rumen epithelial cells and can be used extensively as an energy source throughout the digestive tract.

As an energy source for the rumen epithelium, butyrate has the ability to promote the development of epithelial cells and inhibit epithelial breakdown (Table 1).  As an end result, ruminal butyrate helps promote efficient absorption of nutrients, especially VFA.  The accumulation of VFA in the rumen results in reduced rumen pH levels, potentially contributing to an acidotic situation.  Due to the highly fermentable nature of feeds fed to feedlot cattle, it is important to prevent this accumulation to allow the rumen bacteria to function more effectively and efficiently.  A study conducted by Guan et al. (2008), published in FEMS Microbiology Letters, examined microbial ecology in feedlot cattle looking for correlations with improved feed efficiency.  They reported that the most efficient cattle had elevated levels of rumen butyrate.

Table 1. Rumen development of Holstein calf thru 26 days treated with sodium buturate

Item Control NaBut P – value
Butyrate, mM 5.7 7.0 NS
Papillae length, µm 314 516 <0.01
Papillae width, µm 150 228 <0.01
26 d ADG, g/d 16 95 <0.10

Gorka et al., 2009, Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology


In dairy cattle, several studies have demonstrated elevated rumen butyrate as a result of sugar supplementation.  A trial conducted at the University of Illinois utilizing QLF’s Energy Balancer product, resulted in an average rumen butyrate increase of 27% relative to cattle receiving a dry supplement (Stierwalt et al., 2017, Journal of Animal Science).  A trial conducted at South Dakota State University demonstrated that cattle receiving an Energy Balancer type product at 9% of the diet improved feed efficiency 6.8 and 3.7% compared to a dry and conventional liquid supplement, respectively (Pritchard et al., 2015, SDSU Beef Report).  It appears likely that the use of these types of supplements may impact rumen fermentation in a manner that promotes efficiency of energy utilization and overall rumen efficiency.

Please contact your local QLF District Representative for more information.

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