Characterizing ruminal parameters in the context of sampling routine and feed efficiency is fundamental to understand the efficiency of feed utilization in the bovine. Therefore, we evaluated microbial and volatile fatty acid (VFA) profiles, rumen papillae epithelial and stratum corneum thickness and rumen pH (RpH) and temperature (RT) in feedlot cattle. In all, 48 cattle (32 steers plus 16 bulls), fed a high moisture corn and haylage-based ration, underwent a productive performance test to determine residual feed intake (RFI) using feed intake, growth, BW and composition traits. Rumen fluid was collected, then RpH and RT logger were inserted 5.5±1 days before slaughter. At slaughter, the logger was recovered and rumen fluid and rumen tissue were sampled. The relative daily time spent in specific RpH and RT ranges were determined. Polynomial regression analysis was used to characterize RpH and RT circadian patterns. Animals were divided into efficient and inefficient groups based on RFI to compare productive performance and ruminal parameters. Efficient animals consumed 1.8 kg/day less dry matter than inefficient cattle (P⩽0.05) while achieving the same productive performance (P⩾0.10). Ruminal bacteria population was higher (P⩽0.05) (7.6×1011 v. 4.3×1011 copy number of 16S rRNA gene/ml rumen fluid) and methanogen population was lower (P⩽0.05) (2.3×109 v. 4.9×109 copy number of 16S rRNA gene/ml rumen fluid) in efficient compared with inefficient cattle at slaughter with no differences (P⩾0.10) between samples collected on-farm. No differences (P⩾0.10) in rumen fluid VFA were also observed between feed efficiency groups either on-farm or at slaughter. However, increased (P⩽0.05) acetate, and decreased (P⩽0.05) propionate, butyrate, valerate and caproate concentrations were observed at slaughter compared with on-farm. Efficient had increased (P⩽0.05) rumen epithelium thickness (136 v. 126 µm) compared with inefficient cattle. Efficient animals also spent 318% and 93.2% more time (P⩽0.05) in acidotic (4.14% v. 1.30%) (pH⩽5.6) and optimal (5.6<pH<6.0) (8.53% v. 4.42%) RpH range compared with inefficient cattle. The circadian patterns revealed lower (P⩽0.05) RpH and no differences (P⩾0.10) in RT pre-, during, and post-prandial periods in efficient compared with inefficient cattle. In essence, superior feed efficiency in cattle seems linked to rumen features consistent with improved efficiency of feed utilization. Microbial abundance, rumen epithelial histomorphology, and RpH, may serve as indicators for feed efficiency in cattle. The divergences of assessments made on-farm and at slaughter should be considered in the development of proxies for feed efficiency.