I got to spend a couple days in a seminar last week with Mark Bader, owner of Free Choice Enterprises.
You may have heard of his business and you may think of it as a mineral-selling enterprise but it is founded on much more complex principles.
Bader will explain to you his mineral sales are part of a larger intent to balance the diet of farm animals, including grazing animals like cattle. Of course, the free choice concept is based on the principle animals instinctively/intuitively know what they need to eat and will do a reasonably good job of consuming those things if they are available. But there's more.
Bader actually works with his clients to teach a "ration balancing" process developed years ago by his father and two scientists at the University of Illinois. I would describe it as a molecular bio-science that considers the primary reactionary elements of the digestive and anotomical processes of all animals. According to Bader those key elements are oxygen, hydrogen and protein/nitrogen products.
I've wanted to hear Bader talk about this for several years because he is the ONLY person I've ever known of who claims to have tested and analyzed different parts of grazing plants. Those of you who are planned/managed graziers who watch how their animals graze know this is a huge issue. Animals never eat the entire plant or even focus entirely on a certain type of plant for any length of time and if you watch them it's obvious they are selecting for certain things.
Bader says they always select for energy but it's not always in sufficient supply. On very young, tender forage, such as wheat pasture, the forage will be too high in protein and too low in hydrogen and/or energy.
The hydrogen-protein balance is more or less an energy-protein balance but is tempered by having the correct amount of oxygen, somewhat like an internal combustion engine, Bader adds. Further, most pasture is low in oxygen, whereas corn is high in oxygen.
As all these chemical compounds, which we know as forage and grain and rumen bacteria, mix and are broken down into other chemicals, things happen in the body as it tries to deal with them.
Bader says when there is too much protein and not enough energy, for example, the rumen bacteria will break the nitrogen groups off the proteins (fatty acids) so they can use them for energy. But this ultimately leaves ammonia gas in the rumen. That ammonia attaches to iron in the bloodstream -- iron is the normal attachment point for oxygen -- and it begins to impede the oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output of the cells. The process can work for awhile but pretty soon the liver and kidneys begin to "clog up" with the nitrogenous compounds and the animals decline in production and eventually in health.
This is typical of what happens on wheat pasture, Bader says. Animals gain four or five pounds a day the first 45 days after go onto wheat pasture but then the liver and kidneys begin "plugging up" and the animals cease to perform.
This is so different from the way we were all taught to balance rations. I don't remember studying metabolic breakdown of feedstuffs at any length in college nutrition courses ... but then I never went very far down that educational path.
Still, it's a difficult concept to grasp, and intriguing. I'll keep exploring this and keep you posted, both here and in the magazine.