Understanding the rumen microbial ecosystem requires the identification of factors that influence the community structure, such as nutrition, physiological condition of the host and host–microbiome interactions. The objective of the current study was to describe the rumen microbial communities before, during and after a complete rumen content transfer. The rumen contents of one donor cow were removed completely and used as inoculum for the emptied rumen of the donor itself and three acceptor cows under identical physiological and nutritional conditions. Temporal changes in microbiome composition and rumen function were analysed for each of four cows over a period of 6 weeks. Shortly after transfer, the cows showed different responses to perturbation of their rumen content. Feed intake depression in the first 2 weeks after transfer resulted in short-term changes in milk production, methane emission, fatty acid composition and rumen bacterial community composition. These effects were more pronounced in two cows, whose microbiome composition showed reduced diversity. The fermentation metrics and microbiome diversity of the other two cows were not affected. Their rumen bacterial community initially resembled the composition of the donor but evolved to a new community profile that resembled neither the donor nor their original composition. Descriptive data presented in the current paper show that the rumen bacterial community composition can quickly recover from a reduction in microbiome diversity after a severe perturbation. In contrast to the bacteria, methanogenic communities were more stable over time and unaffected by stress or host effects.