At present there is little quantitative information on the identity and composition of bacterial populations in the rumen microbial community. Quantitative fluorescence in situ hybridization using newly designed oligonucleotide probes was applied to identify the microbial populations in liquid and solid fractions of rumen digesta from cows fed barley silage or grass hay diets with or without flaxseed. Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, and Proteobacteria were abundant in both fractions, constituting 31.8 to 87.3% of the total cell numbers. They belong mainly to the order Bacteroidales (0.1 to 19.2%), hybridizing with probe BAC1080; the families Lachnospiraceae (9.3 to 25.5%) and Ruminococcaceae (5.5 to 23.8%), hybridizing with LAC435 and RUM831, respectively; and the classes Deltaproteobacteria (5.8 to 28.3%) and Gammaproteobacteria (1.2 to 8.2%). All were more abundant in the rumen communities of cows fed diets containing silage (75.2 to 87.3%) than in those of cows fed diets containing hay (31.8 to 49.5%). The addition of flaxseed reduced their abundance in the rumens of cows fed silage-based diets (to 45.2 to 58.7%) but did not change markedly their abundance in the rumens of cows fed hay-based diets (31.8 to 49.5%). Fibrolytic species, including Fibrobacter succinogenes and Ruminococcus spp., and archaeal methanogens accounted for only a small proportion (0.4 to 2.1% and 0.2 to 0.6%, respectively) of total cell numbers. Depending on diet, between 37.0 and 91.6% of microbial cells specifically hybridized with the probes used in this study, allowing them to be identified in situ. The identities of other microbial populations (8.4 to 63.0%) remain unknown.