Cow in pasture

Unorthodox Ration Balancing System Offers Advantages

Chemistry-based system provides knowledge for on-the-go decisions in pasture management and supplementation.

Mark Bader, the proprietor of Free Choice Enterprises in Wisconsin, uses an unusual but potentially valuable method of balancing rations, including grazed-forage diets.

It began many years ago when his father and two other researchers explored the idea that all living things, regardless of where they fall in the food chain, are composed primarily of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.

Essentially, this is a chemistry-based ration formulation/analysis instead of the more common analysis of fats, proteins, forages and feedstuffs.

Featured in the June issue of Beef Producer, there was limited room for a list of Bader's feedstuff values. You can find a much more complete list of those values provided on the last page of this story.

Bader says 97% of any ration is carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. These are the elements which make up energy and protein.

Carbon = 9,000 calories/gram
Hydrogen = 25,000 calories/gram
Oxygen = -3,125 calories per gram

Carbon and hydrogen are the main reactants in fueling work such as grazing and for production such as growth, fattening and milking. Dietary oxygen is required for C and H to be "burned" or used by the rumen bugs and then by the animals' bodies, he says. Digestion is an oxidation reaction.

Bader says balancing the ration for optimum use of carbon can be best compared to adjusting the carburetor on a gasoline engine. The end products of the burning of fuel are the same as with the metabolism of carbohydrates: H2O , CO2 and heat only if the proportion of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are correct.

If you don't have enough dietary oxygen to mix with the dietary "fuel," such as in situations with a high-fat, high-protein diet in a cow, she gets a condition called ketosis. Fats and proteins are low in oxygen.

Sugars and starches, on the other hand, are high in oxygen and help solve this problem and balance a high-protein ration.

An imbalance with too much carbohydrates, on the other hand, produces acidity in the body. Further, having a high sugar content doesn't specifically mean it's high in energy. Remember more dietary oxygen helps cattle use more of the carbohydrates.

Fats are high in energy, however, and can help boost energy of some rations, Bader says.

All this is getting at the need for a diet balanced in energy and protein for the work or performance being done. Essentially, that's long been the goal of traditional nutritionists.

Building blocks
In photosynthesis, plants take in CO2 through pores called stomata, and draw up H2O primarily from the ground. Neither of these are energy sources. Then the plant uses sunlight to cleave the bonds and release O2 into the air and form carbohydrate compounds for maintenance, growth and reproduction. First formed are sugars. Next are starches, then fibers, then cellulose, then hemicellulose, then lignified cellulose. Plants also make some fats and waxes.

All these things are formed from simple carbohydrates (sugar) and all are formed from C, H, and O. The more complex these sugar-based compounds are, the harder it is for the cows' rumen bugs to break apart and utilize.

Sugar is C6H12O22, for example. A molecule of starch will have more Carbon atoms, a few more Hydrogen atoms and fewer Oxygen atoms. Fat will have more C and H and fewer O.

The protein factor
A protein is an energy group with an amine (such as NH2) attached on the end. Plants take up nitrogenous compounds primarily through soil life or through soil-applied nitrogen fertilizers. Some of the compounds which get measured as proteins are true proteins. Others are just non-protein nitrogen compounds such as nitrates.

Rumen bugs can cleave the amine group off protein chains and use the rest of the molecule for energy. The problem is this frees NH3 (ammonia) as a gaseous substance and if too much of this is going on the liver and kidneys can't keep up with removing the amines (waste products) from the blood. The amines are attaching to the iron in the hemoglobin and that is normally the attachment point to move oxygen to the cells and CO2 away from the cells.

In all cases where plants and/or rations create excess amines the major issue is the ammonia molecule is very alkaline, perhaps at the level of pH-8 or 9, Bader says. This is too high for the rumen bugs, which operate at maximum efficiency at just slightly the acidic side of neutral, which would be just below pH of 7.

Alkalinity issues
Breeding problems and other health problems with alkaline pH result from tying up the transport capacity of red blood cells, because elements such as phosphorus, copper, magnesium and other vital minerals and trace elements are locked out. These things seem to occur worst at urine pH levels topping 8.

Further, this means on a high-protein diet the animal can't get enough oxygen or expel enough CO2 and the animal gets hot and pants. Too much of this and a cow suffocates and dies. The same thing is happening in prussic acid and nitrate poisoning except the uptake and effects are more rapid.

All this also tells us we can pretty easily check the urine urea nitrogen, similar to blood urea nitrogen and milk urea nitrogen, via pH paper. Bader says to always check several animals because you'll find considerable variation. Ideally urine pH would be down around 7 in a well-balanced diet. With too much nitrogen and/or protein) it be more like pH 8 or even pH 9. When the protein is too low, the urine will get closer to pH 6 or sometimes less.

Low urine or blood pH can also occur on rapid-growing cool-season forages in northern states because sugar content of forages can run from 20-40% of the plants on some days.

Watch Mark Bader explain some of his alkalinity principles in a video.

Actual balancing
Although Bader uses primarily oxygen, hydrogen and protein content in his ration analyses, he measures the amount of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen and then calculates for his three main components.

Remember he's talking about dietary oxygen as the "carburetor setting" for using energy and protein. The hydrogen essentially represents energy.

The protein is not that different from normal ration considerations except Bader is looking at the amount of those four basic elements represented therein.

Ultimately, the hydrogen and protein must be in the correct balance for optimum performance, and always with dietary oxygen in its universally correct ratio of 40.5% of the ration.

The higher the combined hydrogen and protein, as long as they're in correct balance, the higher will be your performance potential.

Bader adds when you have excess dietary oxygen you are "burning" your hydrogen faster and his balancing system says for every 1% increase in oxygen you must subtract 0.12% hydrogen. Deficiencies in oxygen also require subtracting in the same ratio.

More examples of how this system can be used to balance rations are on Page 4 in the June edition of Beef Producer available on this website.

In Bader's system, the ideal for the rumen microflora and therefore the nutrition they pass on to the bovine, is variable depending on livestock class and temperature. Generally, however, Bader uses the following as fundamentally correct ratios at 50 degrees.

A word of warning: Tallying the values for any given feed you see here will not give you a 100% figure. That's not how the system works.

To see how these values apply to supplementing on pasture, check out the June issue of Beef Producer.

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