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The Balanced Diet

What does the correct vitamin, mineral, & pH balance do for the animal?

Vitamins & Minerals.

5% of the animal is major and minor trace elements. Therefore, if you do not have these elements, you do not have an animal.

The following is a brief list of minerals, all of which are over 38% deficient in the environment (starting with the most deficient element):

  1. Iodine
  2. Sodium (except alkaline areas)
  3. Copper
  4. Zinc
  5. Phosphorous
  6. Magnesium

One of the first noticed improvements of a properly balanced diet is feed efficiency. The animal has the ability to overeat by as much as 50% to make up for a deficiency of mineral(s), energy, or protein. Recognizing and providing deficient elements for any given environmental condition is quite important. When determining a deficiency, we must first decide whether the element is truly deficient in the soil or crop. Almost all of our research and observations point to an excess of one or more mineral elements, leading to an observed deficiency. For example, an excess of calcium in the diet inhibits uptake of several elements, including phosphorous and magnesium. These two elements are metabolically responsible for utilization of calcium, among other duties. Thus, excess calcium creates its own deficiency.

Indeed, deficiency and excess, whether naturally occurring or human-induced, must be dealt with accordingly, or no mineral program will be at its highest level of effectiveness for animal health, production, or cost. One way minerals improve health is by improving antibody production, which improves the immune system. Those minerals linked to immunity include copper, iron, selenium, and zinc. Minerals are also necessary to convert energy to fat and protein to meat. Without minerals, oxygen would not get transported to the cell, nor would carbon dioxide get backhauled to the lungs for elimination. Minerals are also necessary for plant growth. By selling a calf every year and the cow every tenth year, 25 lbs of mineral per cow/calf per year is removed. Since only 50% of the mineral consumed by the animal is utilized, the other 50% is deposited on the soil in the form of manure and urine. This is desirable because the minerals selected by the animal will be those deficient in their food source and ultimately the land from which the feed was harvested.

Again, the importance of eliminating excesses in the diet must also be stressed. Although vitamins improve health by enhancing antibody production, which strengthens immunity (vitamins directly linked to immunity include A, E, C, and B), excessive amounts of B vitamins in the diet decrease production by causing a hormone imbalance. Moreover, excessive amounts of mineral take up additional space in the body making vitamins less accessible in the blood stream, thus causing deficiencies. An improper proportion of energy to protein in the ration decreases the availability of vitamins. For example, the presence of nitrates in either feed or water decreases the overall energy of the ration, thus increasing the animal’s requirement for vitamins, while the presence of bacteria in the water exposes the animal to a constant risk of infection placing a constant demand on the immune system, thus increasing the animal’s requirement for vitamins.



About 50 years ago, the founders of FCE recognized the need for Rolaids with feedlot cattle on high grain rations. Approximately one third of the feedlot cattle performed well, one third performed fair, and one third performed terrible – always needing 30 more days to finish. The discovery was made by following the animals to slaughter and testing the pH (acid/alkaline balance) of the rumen contents. In general, the animals doing poorly had a ruminant pH of 4 (very acidic), while those animals fairing mediocre had a pH of 5 (less acidic) and animals doing well had a pH of 6 (nearly neutral). This result led to the free choice feeding of sodium bicarbonate (pH 7.4) to neutralize the acidity of the rumen. The reason for feeding free choice over forced feeding was based on the varying amounts of acidity encountered among this group of cattle. Those animals with a ruminant pH of 4 required 100 times more sodium bicarbonate than those with a pH of 6. Later it was decided to free choice a stronger alkaline product, which had a pH of 12 (1000 times stronger than sodium bicarbonate), decreasing both cost and freight.

So why was poor feedlot performance encountered? The rumen microorganisms which aid in the digestion of food and manufacture of B vitamins (stimulating appetite) require a near neutral media in which to live. When the pH of the rumen drops to 4, the organisms go dormant and no rumen digestion occurs (pH 5 is not much improved). Correcting the pH not only improved feed efficiency, but also butterfat tests and milk production.

The importance of maintaining a near neutral pH in the rumen is second to the importance of maintaining a favorable pH in an individual cell of the body (heart cells, lung cells, muscle cells, etc.). For example, one major cause of cancer results from a continuously low intracellular pH, which can alter the cell's genetic code (DNA), and thereby perpetuate uncontrolled cell growth, as well as an acidic cellular environment. The low pH in this scenario is created by an excess of soluble carbohydrate (i.e., glucose) in proportion to the amount of oxygen required to completely burn or oxidize glucose (fuel for the cell), yielding carbon dioxide and water. Due to this incomplete burning, lactic acid accumulates, thereby lowering the pH of the cell. As the pH of the cell becomes more acidic, the cell decreases in function and eventually may go dormant and/or die. Under these conditions, animals generally go “off feed” and often founder.



It is just as destructive to rumen microorganisms (bacteria) and individual cells to function under excess alkalinity as it is under acidic conditions. One cause of excess alkalinity is alkaline water, generally seen in the Western U.S., which is caused by a high sodium content in the water. However, the most common cause of excess alkalinity is an improperly balanced ration. If the energy of the ration is deficient compared to the protein, the animal's system can deaminize protein and use it as an energy source - in other words, the animal converted protein into energy. When this occurs, ammonia is released in the rumen making conditions unfavorable (too alkaline) for proper microorganism growth; ammonia is the gas that causes bloat on green grass. These alkaline conditions allow harmful bacteria to proliferate causing more infections, mastitis, etc.

Under alkaline conditions, hydrochloric acid secreted in the stomach, which breaks down protein and carbohydrates for absorption, is partially neutralized decreasing digestion potential (feed efficiency). Secretion of hydrochloric acid also provides health benefits by preventing undesirable bacteria from migrating up the lower digestive tract. Excess alkalinity also allows undesirable microorganisms to migrate up the reproductive tract causing numerous infections and in some instances reproductive failure.


Thus, the pH of the digestive system has a major effect on the availability of mineral elements to the animal. As the system becomes more acid, things such as protein, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, and molybdenum become less available. As the system becomes more alkaline, things such as phosphorus, iron, manganese, boron, copper, and zinc become less available. By checking the pH of the urine, presence of acidosis or alkalosis can be determined and effectively treated.