Although bovids are obligate herbivores, they occasionally supplement their diet with animal products, and feeding strategies are correlated with body size. In general, small bovids are solitary specialized feeders that forage in dense, closed habitat, whereas large bovids tend to be gregarious and feed in open grassland habitats. As generalist herbivores, large bovids consume high-fiber vegetation, which contains more cellulose and lignin than the diet of forest dwelling species. However, because all bovids are obligate herbivores they support microbial communities within their rumen (bacteria, protozoa, and fungi), which help break down cellulose and lignin and converts high fiber forage into an abundant energy source.
In addition to the true stomach, or abomasum, all bovids have 3 additional chambers, or false stomachs, in which bacterial fermentation takes place. Bovids digest low-quality (i.e., low protein, high-fiber) food via four different pathways. First, gastric fermentation extracts lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates, which are then absorbed and distributed throughout the body via the intestines. Second, large undigested food particles form into a bolus, or ball of cud, which is regurgitated and re-chewed to help break down the cell wall of ingested plant material. Third, cellulose digestion via bacterial fermentation results in high nitrogen microbes that are occasionally flushed into the intestine, which are subsequently digested by their host. These high-nitrogen microbes serve as an important protein source for bovids. Finally, bovids can store large amounts of forage in their stomachs for later digestion. All bovids chew their cud, have four-chambered stomachs (1 true and 3 false stomachs) and support microorganisms that breakdown cellulose.
Each bovid subfamily has a unique feeding strategy. For example, members of Antilopinae are arid land gleaners and feed primarily on unevenly dispersed food resources. Bovinae species rely on both scattered and abundant forage and are fresh grass bulk grazers. Members of Caprinae are more generalized and flexible feeders and can often be found foraging in low-productivity habitats. Hippotraginae species are arid adapted grazers that generally rely on an unstable food supplies. Bovids from Reduncinae are valley grazers and depend on an abundant unstable food supply. Unlike most other bovids, members of Cephalophinae are primarily frugivorous and are known to follow canopy dwelling primates to collect dropped fruit.
Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )
- Buchholtz, C., H. Sambraus. 1990. Bovids: Cattle. Pp. 406-407 in S Parker, ed. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals, Vol. 5, 1 Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.
- Prins, H. 1996. Ecology and Behaviour of the African Buffalo. Great Britain: Chapman and Hall.
- Van Soest, P. 1994. Nutritional Ecology of the Ruminant, Second Edition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.