Spectral analysis techniques were used to characterize the cyclical variation in rumination behavior of cows. Four Holstein cows were fed twice daily a diet of 60% high-moisture shelled corn-based concentrate, 15% first-cut alfalfa-grass hay and 25% second-cut alfalfa silage. The number of minutes that each cow spent ruminating was determined for 15-min intervals during six consecutive days. Rumination data then were characterized using Fourier harmonic analysis to decompose the total sum of squares into 288 orthogonal components due to different rumination wavelengths. Rumination patterns for all cows consisted mainly of wavelengths that were harmonics of a 24-h cycle, indicating a circadian pattern of rumination. Differences in rumination patterns between cows occurred mainly at wavelengths of less than 2 h. Rumination patterns of two of the four cows were more complex, and consisted of high-frequency, non-24-h harmonic wavelengths in addition to the circadian pattern. Spectral analysis can be used to identify the component cycles of rumination patterns of individual animals, which can then be used to determine the effects of dietary or other manipulations on rumination behavior.