The Hopes and Hazards of Raw Pet Food

People charged with overseeing the safety of our food supply have a crucial role in society that is not properly appreciated. In a westernized community, food borne illness is so rare that citizens take food safety for granted. In the United States, the probability of a lethal food poisoning from any one meal is one in 73 million1. Such stellar success actually makes it difficult for authorities to get anyone to listen to them, except in moments of high drama or sudden fear.

So maybe we should be more attentive when they sternly rap the desk with a hickory rod and promise dire things. Perhaps it is understandable when authorities get a bit over-reaching when nobody will listen to them. Understandable, but not acceptable. After a long career in science, the last person I will listen to is the one telling me they know what’s good for me or they know the answer to my question. The person I want to listen to, intently, is the one who says, “I don’t know the answer. But, I can tell you this…” The person willing to admit ignorance on a subject, indeed compelled to, is the one who has studied it carefully and deeply, and the one best able to inform others. Sadly, we are surrounded by evidence of the myopia of establishment thinking and dogma. You don’t have to cite the world-is-flat doctrine or the Spanish Inquisition for proof. For example, according to the all-knowing authorities in the 1960s, butter would kill you and margarine would prevent death by butter. Today, exactly the opposite is known to be true. Butter is a rich source of anti-cancer nutrients, while margarine is proven to be full of carcinogens. Simple total blood cholesterol is now understood to predict nothing, but for decades entire societies remade themselves at the altar of cholesterol.

Level headed professionals do not attack raw pet food with fear mongering. Raw food, human or pet, may be a vector for pathogens, but it can also be a source of beneficial bacteria, undamaged vitamins and enzymes, higher palatability and greater digestibility. There are people who have been selling raw pet food for decades and never had a single problem with salmonella or listeria. Everybody counsels that proper food handling is imperative, just as for any raw meat. What I’m saying: In considering the place of raw pet food in the larger picture, I do not blindly accept the perceived wisdom of its market competitors or its market policemen. The perspective from these sectors is part of the fact gathering and due diligence, but so too is the point of view and insights of raw food proponents.

In the US, there is a pet for every other person. They are everywhere. From this we can conclude pets must be of import and value to people, bringing something worthwhile to their lives. It follows that there would exist an industry catering to pet owners. This is what happens in a free market society; entrepreneurs are rewarded for filling needs. Pet foods are a major portion of this support industry, with dry pet food the leading type. Dry pet food predominates because it is acceptable nutrition, economic and convenient. No argument here. Dry pet food is the cheapest and needs no refrigeration.

Dry pet food is acceptable nutrition but it is not the best nutrition. This should be another “no argument here,” but instead we run headlong into the entrenched thinking of the establishment. At this point, I consider any observation from the dry pet food industry as inadmissible; these people have an ax to grind and should recuse themselves from the debate about acceptable vs best pet nutrition. It is allowed, without hesitation, they have a sound argument for convenience and economy, but dry pet food is too high in soluble carbohydrates and not the best diet. Some people want the best nutrition for their pet and are willing to work harder and pay more to have it.

Keeping the home environment free of food danger is central to the mandate of regulatory agencies, and they see raw pet food as a vector for pathogenic bacteria to get into the home kitchen. Evidence they generated supporting their case: 7.6% of raw pet foods bought by the Center for Veterinary Medicine from on-line suppliers tested positive for salmonella (and 16% for listeria) compared to 0% of dry foods2. In the US each year, salmonella causes 1.2 million illnesses in people, 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths. Chickens are the source of the vast majority of these cases. Over 92% of non-human, non-clinical positive lab reports for salmonella are from chickens. According to Dan Engeljohn, Assistant Administrator of USDA/FSIS field operations: “Salmonella will never be eliminated. Salmonella is so ubiquitous in the market that you wouldn’t have any raw poultry unless it was all irradiated” (sterilized with radiation). As a matter of fact, the agency has a “performance standard” for rates of Salmonella contamination on whole, raw chicken, allowing a prevalence of 7.5 percent. In practice, however, inspectors consider poultry plants to be in compliance when five in 51 tests, or nearly 10 percent, are positive for Salmonella3.

Oh. So the federal regulatory agency considers 10% salmonella occurrence in grocery store poultry as “background noise” but 7.6% in pet food as cause for alarm? That’s hardly an even-handed approach to consumer protection. The thing that is most irritating about this report from a federal agency is it is biased and out of context in its focus on raw pet food. Granted, salmonella is bad, regardless what vector it rides into people’s kitchen, but the real issue here is chicken, from any source, from raw pet food or from the grocery store. A more useful trial from the consumer’s perspective would be to sample grocery store chicken and raw pet food with chicken as an ingredient, and contrast the percent salmonella positives. We already know what each assays independently—they are identical. For proper scientific validation, all that is lacking is to have the two together in the same trial. An additional trial incumbent upon the agency to run is to look at salmonella in raw pet food with and without chicken as an ingredient. Without chicken, it may be devoid of salmonella, which we’re entitled to know.

If raw pet food with chicken as an ingredient and grocery store chicken are identical in percent salmonella positives, then the logical nature of this discussion should be to alert the consumer (and cook) of the hazard of raw chicken and to provide education and guidance on how to properly handle and prepare chicken. Of course included in this discussion should be raw pet food that contains chicken as an ingredient. The point: It is behavior unbecoming a federal agency to recommend against raw pet food yet say nothing against grocery store chicken when both are identical in their failings and chicken is many times more commonplace in the American kitchen than frozen pet food in the freezer.

Notes:
1. There are 330 million Americans eating 3 meals every day. That’s a billion a day for a total of 365 billion meals each year. CDC reports there are 5000 food borne illness deaths a year, or one for every 73 million meals eaten.

2. Get the facts. Raw pet food diets can be dangerous to you and your pet.
http://www.fda/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/AnimalHealth Literacy/ucm373757

3. USDA: No Foster Farms recall of Salmonella-tainted chicken for regulatory reasons.
http://www.oregonlive.com/health/index.ssf/2013/10/post_76.html

An additional reference stating the 7.5% permissible level of salmonella in whole chicken.
http://www.meatingplace.com/Industry/News/Details/45315?allowquest=true

The care and feeding of a dairy nutritionist

In the beginning. Animal nutritionists are invariably ag school graduates. We don’t talk much about our ag school system anymore, but it was a driving force is America’s rapid rise to prominence in world commerce. In the 1860’s our government authorized the Morrill Land Grant Act, setting aside land in each state for a school for agriculture and engineering (Cornell, Penn State, Kansas State, etc.). This was soon followed by the creation of an Ag Extension Service, intended as a conduit for tech transfer. Today, the extension agent is less of a factor in our lives, but most emerging economies today are striving earnestly to duplicate our Ag Extension Service. For us it was a very effective method to spread the word about new technology. However, it became evident to me years ago that the extension agent was a hound dog running for his supper. I was a rabbit running for my life. If my advice didn’t make money for my client, I was invited to leave, and I was no longer paid. If an extension agent’s advice is inept, he still gets paid. From early in our history as a player on the world stage, tech transfer in agriculture was a fundamental component of our dynamic growth. As the livelihood called farmer advanced and began to specialize, dairymen were instrumental in perfecting the tech transfer dialogue as a two way discussion. A hired consultant is a small but critical improvement over the government employee, a long standing pillar of the system.

Just what is a nutritionist?Many nutrition consultants hold an advanced degree or Ph.D. This tells us something important, but also usually overlooked. The reason they call someone doctor is because his brain is scarred. This is not as judgmental as it seems at first, as any intense experience scars the brain, in keeping with the saying, “as the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” Ph.D.’s are trained by professors, who teach and do research, and have a particular outlook on life, shaped by living in the scientific process. Science as a learning method is carefully and rigidly codified to look the fallibility of human judgment in the eye. As a profession, science unavoidably invents experts, who have a tendency sometimes to be overbearing about how the discipline works. Admittedly, it is a process, meaning it is never ending. No fact is ever safe for long. Sooner or later, in the relentless quest of the truth, every fact must be at least modified or even abandon. The last sentence of every research paper is “more research is needed.” But consultants who don’t grow beyond the culture of their training will be less effective. Dairymen have little use for this outlook. They need answers now, not more researcher later.

What you want first in a nutrition consultant is someone who has seen it before. Consultants don’t do anything for you that you couldn’t do for yourself. It’s just that because they do only nutrition, all day, they have more experience than you, who must do many things each day. They have seen it before. Secondly, a consultant ought to show a pretty evident measure of humility. The truth can come from anywhere (even a veterinarian!). Nobody is right all the time. You and your consultant working together will have a higher batting average than either alone. Be skeptical of a consultant who will not make room for another consultant’s opinion. If a client and I are struggling with a problem, I welcome another’s input. If I can’t defend my recommendations when challenged by another expert, my client has the wrong consultant. Alternatively, if another has more informed insight, my client needs to know it. My foremost mission is promoting your economic success, not my ego.

A dairyman’s brain is scarred too. I was at a dairy meeting years ago in discussion with some local producers, and handed each a business card, which seemed to me the appropriate things to do. One of them took my card, and with a smirk on his face, started picking his teeth with my card. I guess he thought he was being cute. Fortunately, most dairymen are more adult than this, and recognize a useful role for support people in the industry. A professional salesman can be a very helpful partner in your success. Everyone must be willing to run a check on their attitude from time to time, as well as the collective mindset of their industry.

For example, some years ago there was a charming billboard advertisement along a highway in Chino California, a high producing dairy shed. The ad was a picture of a pretty blond woman wearing only a big cottage cheese container, invoking the image of some guy who lost everything in a poker game, and had to sneak home wearing a barrel to hide his nakedness. The words on the billboard said simply “Bikini Season Is Coming.” Cottage cheese is an excellent food, included in many weight loss diets, and I thought the ad a very clever promotion for our industry, catching the attention of both men and women, each for different reasons. The Chino dairy wives had the ad removed—they thought it was too risqué. I think that was a mistake.

Speaking of attitude, industry managers can sometimes cite prudence when it is more correctly lack of perspective. The National Dairy council denied a request of mine for research funds to prove ice cream made with fructose was an improvement over ice cream made conventionally with sucrose. Ice cream is quite low on the glycemic index and much less fattening than commonly perceived. If made with fructose, it is lower still, and even better. The explanation for the rejection was that they didn’t want to give people the idea that there was anything wrong with ice cream the way it is. Thinking like this is counterproductive. There is too much of it in the dairy industry, at all levels. How many times have you been to a dairy meeting where a frequent topic of discussion was the low price of milk? Then at lunch, all the dairymen go through the buffet and select tea as their drink. It is a curious attitude to complain about the lack of demand for milk and not demand it yourself.

Conflict of interest, or is it? Some consultants sell a mineral supplement, in addition to providing advice. I have had dairy clients tell me the reason they hired me was because I didn’t sell anything. I have also had clients tell me they were going to buy a mineral pack from someone and they’d just as soon buy from me. This point of view speaks to the more important part of the dairyman-nutritionist relationship, which is trust. Whether or not your consultant sells a supplement is irrelevant if he is up front about it and mutual trust is part of the relationship. The same pertains to feed mill nutritionists or any other individual in a company that offers nutrition advice with a product they sell. If they are experienced professionals who put your best interest first, the only qualifier is the price of their service. This we’ll discuss in a moment.

What I’ve learned about consulting that you should consider. Early on in my career I learned one of the most important rules of being a consultant. A dairyman I was working with was running both heifers and cows in the same pen. I launched into a lecture of all the reasons why he should do things differently. He listened patiently. When I was finished he calmly explained to me why they did things their way. His reasons were better than mine. As a consultant, first you ask why things are done, and then you listen and hear what is being said. People have very good reasons for doing things the way they do. They have learned by trial and error, often at great expensive, how best to get things done in their circumstances. If you would suggest a different method, your reasons must be better than theirs, and how can you know their reasons if you don’t ask. When I learned this lesson, my effectiveness improved.

The other side of this coin teaches lessons too. I learned to ask the same question repeatedly, in slightly different words.The first time you ask a question, people tend to reply with what they think is the most direct answer. The next time, they include some additional information, considered irrelevant to them, which is why they didn’t mention it the first time. Then, they may tell you what they think you need to hear, or what they think you want to hear, or what the accountant taught them to tell people. Eventually, a more complete picture starts to emerge, and often it is rather different than what you were told at first. All the clues needed to solve a mystery are usually right before your eyes; you just need to see them clearly, interpret them correctly, and get past the brain scarring. And one thing we all know for certain, the cow doesn’t care who she tells the truth. Handicapping the thought process is not a behavior unique to dairymen, it is a reality of the human condition. What your consultant needs from you is facts, not your interpretation of the facts.

Who is in charge. There is a situation I encounter at least fifty percent of the time on a dairy, and it is found everywhere in the world. It is what I call the father-son estate dilemma, or the question of who is in charge. Sometimes, the sons complain that dad is in the way. He won’t let them adopt improvements, or borrow money, or hire more help. Just as frequently, dad complains the kids won’t apply themselves, or won’t pay attention to important tasks. It amuses me how often I found the son who loves machinery in charge of the cows while his brother who loved cows was running the farming. There are numerous solutions to such conflicts, but one attitude must be addressed by all. Parents are obligated to get their kids into adulthood with all their fingers and toes, avoiding jail if possible, and functioning as contributing members of society. They owe them nothing more. Not a college education, not an inheritance, and certainly not a farm. Naturally, any parent wants to help their children as much as possible, and make it easier for them than they had it themselves, but too much security is not good for anyone. As Abe Lincoln said, you never much help anyone by doing for them what they ought to do for themselves.

Work hard your whole life, for what? Let’s consider this matter in a broader sense. What we are talking about is succession, what is to become of the fruits of your lifetime of dedication. This first requires a moment to consider the future of our industry in general. Here the news is good. There will be milk. For several reasons. It is a perfect food. As a matter of fact, it is the only thing we eat that was designed by evolution specifically to be nourishment. Anything else we eat is nourishment almost by happenstance. It wasn’t created for our sustenance, but incidentally serves as such. Just as importantly, the ruminant is ideally positioned to endure in our culture. The ruminant can convert things useless to mankind into very valuable food. Don’t just think coastal hay and alfalfa, but cottonseed, cottonseed meal, dried bakery waste, and spent brewers grain. Think straw, and sagebrush, even newspaper. Long after the chicken and pig have been shoved aside by urban sprawl, the cow will be thriving on the steppes and plains of the world, converting captured energy from the sun into human food. The chicken and pig compete with man, needing the same food, and land, that people need. Not so for the cow. The cow’s future is more secure. Of course the cow eating brush will not give 120 pounds of milk, but our decades of perfecting the realization of her genetic potential will enable her to convert more fodder to milk than the native yak fed the same fodder. Your career and mine, dedicated to maximizing the wonders of her genetics, will provide very useful insight for the next generation.

What horse to back? A proper perspective on the future of the milk cow is important to your plans for succession and what strategy you adopt. A good consultant can be a useful sounding board in these considerations, and indeed, should not hesitate to take the lead. He’s seen it before. An underlying conflict is that dairying is often not just a business, it is a way of life. Founders of other enterprises are less attached to their creation. If offered enough money, they sell out and don’t look back. Dairymen who sell out frequently soon reappear—as dairymen.

The 8-Track, tape deck and fax machine were cutting edge technology…for a while. Now it is CD’s. What will replace the CD? Maybe the thumb drive, already yielding toMP3’s and iPhones. How do you plan? Nothing is assured, but certain things are a safe bet: There will be more people in the world. They all need to live some place. They like to live in the same place where plants grow well—warm places. Farm land will grow in value. People will always need food. Food production will always be a vibrant industry. Milk is a great food. It will not be easy for dairymen in the future, but if you are clever and shrewd, at least your battles will be how do I thrive, not how do I survive.

What to pay a nutrtionist? Once a client announced to me, you saved me $30,000 last month. How are you going to earn your $300 this month? I took no offense. That was the deal. For $300 a month, I agreed to do my very best for him. But what is fair compensation today? There is a pragmatic minimum; you do get what you pay for. What does the market place pay for an experienced Ph.D.? The answer is $100,000 salary, $50,000 overhead and $20,000 office support, or about $14,000 per month. This is about what a successful feed mill allocates for a competent nutritionist, and what a consultant could expect to earn in the market place, if he is any good. If a consultant has 20 clients, all visited regularly, his fee needs to be about $700/mo. If he is local (in his own bed every night) $700 is fair. If he is from elsewhere, and he works five clients in your area, he incurs costs for plane, parking, car, hotel and meals of about $1150/wk, or $230 per client. So we arrive at a working minimum of about $1,000/mo for an experienced consultant who lives outside your area.

The nutritionist-dairyman relationship tends to fall into one of two types: the consultant tells the client what to do, or the consultant informs the client’s decisions, and the client does what he chooses. The market tends to match up these personality types efficiently. Although quite different, neither approach is right or wrong, and the result is always the same. The dairyman is the one inside the ring, getting the black eye and bloody nose. The consultant is outside the ring, holding the towel and yelling “duck!”. Some consultants are effective, but not very patient teachers. Some dairymen want to understand the reason and logic behind a piece of advice, and appreciate being told. The teacher-mentor types find each other, and the direct-execute types find each other. Any mismatch can be frustrating, and usually short lived.

The care and feeding of a nutritionist. The key to satisfaction in working with a nutritionist is the same as for any employee: Hire a good one, make sure you both have communicated clearly and agree on the consultant’s assignment, then stay out of his way. Remember, it is a process, with constant feedback from the cows, and constant adjustment. Be realistic. It is not fair to call your consultant a week after his visit and tell him soybean prices have jumped radically, and to lower feed costs. If he can lower cost without lower performance, he didn’t do his job correctly to begin with. It is fair, and you must insist on your nutritionist providing the lowest cost ration that will produce the maximum profit. Notice I didn’t say milk. The key is not lots of milk, not bragging rights at the local cafe. It is lots of profit. Your nutritionist is not unlike your accountant, who you expect to maximize your profit but avoid an IRS audit. A pasture based system doesn’t make a lot of milk, but it makes a surprising amount of money.

Focus should be on the transition cow and the high cow. The others are easy to feed by comparison. We have genetically selected for a cow that gives milk beyond our ability to feed her, and high cows lose weight even on the best ration in the world. Half of all vet bills come from the first third of the third lactation. My job is keeping the cows healthy and pregnant. Production takes care of itself. My clients are the best in the world at getting more milk. The challenge is keeping them out of trouble while they do it.

I went to school for a long time, but most of what I have learned of any use was taught to me by animals and their owners. The facts your nutritionist gives you for decision making can be no better than the facts you give him for his thought process. The really tough problems often are never solved. They just get better on their own, which is very frustrating. But I welcome these mysteries; I must stretch my brain, and learn. Knowledge acquired solving a mystery finds fruitful application later. In our game, knowledge has only one purpose, to enable predictions. When your nutritionist hands you a ration, he is making a prediction. Ask him on what knowledge it is based.I guarantee you will learn something, and so will he.

What to Feed Your Dog

3 LEG Stool 4-13-11

The three critical aspects of controlling body condition.

Rhetorically speaking. In a book about the fate of human societies, the author framed the discussion with a rhetorical question, why did European decedents come to dominate Native Americans instead of the other way around, with Geronimo scalping the king of England.  In this book, Garrad Diamond went on to answer this question with convincing insight.  The discussion here could be framed by another rhetorical question: Why, if fat is the problem, has per capita consumption of fat gone down precipitously for the past 30 years, yet obesity has increased dramatically?

An ancient tale. Often someone will begin to relate a tale with the opening statement, to make a long story short.  As we know, they frequently fall short of being short.  I can promise you the version of the story today will be shorter than the actual story, which is four billion years old.  All mammals have a set of genes and metabolic machinery that has been perfected by four billion years of evolution, and it is remarkably similar in all mammals, including our pets and ourselves.  The most obvious feature of mammalian DNA is the incredible ability it bestows on us to survive on lack.  As written in my book:

“A silent force powers each creature’s daily survival.  It is all the thousands of enzyme systems faithfully transferred forward by genes to deal with lack or insufficiency.   This can be first a lack of a basic nutrient, such as protein or copper, and secondly lack of subsequent or secondary products, such as amino acids or copper dependent enzymes.  We can endure the lack of certain nutrients for months, and in some instances, years.  Everyone has skipped a meal now and then, many fast for days on a voluntary basis, and the annals of history are full of tales of survival for weeks or even months on the most meager of ratios.  What is even more intriguing is that the emaciation of months of starvation in adult is usually repaired without a trace in a relatively short time.”

For example. One example of mammalian ability to deal with lack is seen with dietary calcium.  If the diet contains inadequate calcium, bone is dissolved to keep blood levels sufficient.  Liver stores vitamin A so efficiently that one can function perfectly with no vitamin A in the diet for months and even years.  Pregnancy can be sited as an example of this survival machinery at its most sophisticated.  In mild starvation, peripheral tissue sensitivity to insulin drops measurably.  The effect is to shunt critical blood sugar to the fetus, enhancing survival of the next generation at the temporary inconvenience of the mother.  But if the starvation becomes severe, full insulin sensitivity returns to peripheral tissues.  This at first seems incongruous, as it invariably results in abortion. But evolution knew what it was doing.  In dire circumstances, pregnancy greatly complicates survival chances, so emphasis reverts to keeping the mother alive, to be a mother later in better times.

Perfected by lack. All mammals are especially perfected to deal with lack of energy, the foremost nutrient, after water.  Regardless if talking of protein, fat or carbohydrate, there is a way to convert it to energy. Some amino acids (protein building blocks) are so quick to convert to energy that they are called glucogenic amino acids.

Ruined by excess.  However, mammals, including pets and people, have no ability to deal with constant, excess starch and sugar.  There is a logical explanation.  As four billion years of evolution adapted all creatures to their surroundings, constant high levels of starch and sugar were never encountered.  If you analyze anything that might constitute food or nourishment, anywhere in the world, it will be low in starch and sugar.   The average starch and sugar content of meat, fish, eggs, insects, plants, fruits, berries, and vegetables is about 4%.  Of course honey and berries are high in sugar.  But honey was rarely encountered, and berries are mostly water.  Eating berries to satiety actually does not overload metabolism, and even if it does, the berries don’t last but a few days in a primordial setting.

Hormone abuse. Contrast this 4% starch-sugar content of the primordial world with the average starch-sugar content of dry, expanded pet food, the type bought in the grocery store.  Most all dry pet food is 40% carbohydrate.  It should be obvious where this discussion is going; 4% versus 40%.  A single large feeding a day of a diet that is 40% carbohydrate is in drastic conflict with what we have evolved to thrive on, and constitutes literal hormone abuse.  Consider that there are eight hormones that raise blood sugar, yet only one that lowers it.  From this, we can conclude that nature saw a great deal of importance to keeping blood sugar held up to a minimum safe level, and relatively little need to lower blood sugar.  This one blood lowering hormone, insulin, was invented, so to speak, to capture the rare or occasional spike in blood sugar and save it as fat.  In this regard, insulin served a critical role in our evolution, and as we know, insulin is very proficient at this assignment.  The hormone insulin is identical, to the last molecule, in all mammals, and does the exact same thing in all creatures.

Dim light becomes sun light. As an analogy, suppose we had spent the last four billion years in a world of twilight and star light, when suddenly a brilliant sun appeared.  Our eyes would struggle to deal with this new development.  This is quite similar to what happened to mankind 10,000 years ago with the introduction of genetic modification of grain, and the advent of the agricultural revolution.  For perspective, 10,000 years in the history of evolutionary is the same as a second in 5 days.  Mammalian diets before the advent of farming were better.  Dr. Winston Price traveled the world in the 1930s evaluating the health of specific populations.  He found 11 societies that existed in two isolated groups at the same time.  Each had portions of their group adhering to their historical hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and a portion that had adopted modern western diets.  In all 11 cases, the hunter gatherers were healthier, with virtually no bone or dental problems.   Skeletons of people living in the near east prior to 10,000 years ago are three inches taller than those that came later.  The foraging of pre-agriculture humans provides an ideal model for us.  It is precisely what we are evolved to do.  Foraging has three inherent and important advantages; it keeps you moving (exercise), it invariably is automatic portion control, and it only serves foods of a chemical composition we are designed to eat (low in starch and sugar).

How did we get to this situation?  Forty percent of our pets are overweight, not coincidentally the same obesity seen in all Americans.  One of the reasons is due to a sneaky trick of Mother Nature.  As an ingredient in the diets, fat has over twice the energy of anything else.  This invites us to follow a false line of reasoning, as we assume lower fat is better.  Proof of this, any grocery store is full of manufactured foods touted as low in fat, reduced fat, less fat.   There is a coffee creamer known the world over as half and half, and it is available as fat free!  Fat is not the problem.   This has been known for over 100 years, and it has been proven unequivocally by the scientific community.  People on a low carb diet can eat all they want yet lose weight, and have a healthier blood lipid profile.

What is the solution to the obesity epidemic in our pets?  Americans spend more on pet care than the GDP of 87 countries.  The concern is there, but evidently we are not correctly applying what we know.  If weight loss is the problem we wish to address, it can be viewed as a three legged stool. The three legs are exercise, portion control and food composition. Sound familiar? Foraging should come to mind.

The solution is to feed as much raw, frozen, canned or freeze dried pet food as your budget will allow. Owners of several big dogs could rapidly go broke feeding a fresh or raw diet, but to the extent that the dry kibble can be reduced, or lowered as a percentage of the diet, nutrition will be better.  Even if no low carbohydrate diets can be provided, at least feed the needed amount of dry in frequent, small servings.

The Biologic Value Of Protein

4barrel staves from lapt 1-1-08Quality of protein gets little attention.  Do you realize that it is possible for a diet that is 17% protein to be more nutritious than one that is 28% protein?  The average pet owner thinks the higher the protein of a diet the better.  This is not true at all.  If the Dodgers had played the Padres and I told you the score of the ball game was 5, and said no more, you’d think me quite stupid.  The final score of a ball game involves two numbers, and one number is not enough information.  It is exactly the same thing regarding the protein in a diet.  To know the amount of protein in a dog food is not enough information.  There is a second number you must have to properly understand a diet’s value.  Besides the amount of protein in a diet, you must also know the quality of the protein.

The quality of a protein can vary widely.  This is because proteins are made from small molecules called amino acids.  When building a protein, nature has twenty principle amino acids to choose from to make all proteins. Some can be synthesized by mammalian metabolism, while others must be provided in the diet because animals can’t make them for themselves.   Thus, amino acids are divided into two types, essential (must be in the diet) or nonessential (can be made by mammals from other nutrients in the diet).  The quality of a protein is determined by the level of the valuable essential amino acids it contains.  If a diet is deficient in one essential amino acid, it does no good to add more protein unless it increases the deficient essential amino acid. The protein of egg is very high quality, because it contains a high level of essential amino acids.  As a matter of fact, it is probably the best protein there is.  This makes sense, as an egg must become and entire creature, with no additional input from anywhere.  Milk protein is another high quality protein, as nature intends it as the only source of protein for a growing mammal. Meat and fish are high quality proteins.  As a general rule, animal proteins are higher quality than plant proteins.  A diet that is 17% protein from egg will is better nutrition than a 28% protein diet that derives all its protein from beans.

It is possible to design an adequate diet using plant proteins, but it requires a full understanding of each plant protein’s amino acid content, and a careful blending to assure sufficient biologic value.  Said another way, a diet of all plant protein is much improved in nutrition if a little animal protein is included.

You can’t un-fry an egg.  Protein can be damaged in harvest or handling, yet not appear different in standard laboratory tests.  Protein content will be identical in an egg before and after it is fried.  And its nutrition will be essentially the same.  But meat and bone meal often undergoes such a rigorous manufacturing process that nutrition does suffer compared to the fresh raw meat and bone it came from. Heat can irreversibly alter a proteins structure, sometimes lowering its nutritive value.    

Feed the World

Our ambition to feed the world is soothed by images of monster grain barges tugging down the Mississippi.  In reality, quiet, unassuming breakthroughs in technology that can be applied on site will ultimately contribute more.

In the world of modern agriculture, the chicken, hog and beef feedlot facilities all focus on one number to access their profit and competitiveness. That number is feed conversion, used as the only criteria for any and every management decision. Their complete focus is the amount of grain required to produce a pound of product. On an ongoing basis, our food production and marketing industry is largely in balance regarding supply and demand. Specific animal sectors suffer the traditional boom and bust of free enterprise and the American consumer is occasionally aware of market adjustments.  But soon they adapt to the reality that the grocery store will continue to provide the cornucopia they expect. American agriculture struggles forward, doing its best to convert grain to animal protein using the system it has perfected over the past century.

plowing w oxenNot so apparent in this American scenario are the more fundamental concepts at work that are seen more clearly if the global picture is considered. Chicken layers and broilers, hogs and beef feedlots require the same land and water for their feeds as people use for growing all their other foods. In other words, these animal species compete with man for sunshine and arable land. In the US, this competition is masked by the vast spaces, abundant water, unparalleled infrastructure and proficient, resilient markets. This competition between man and food animals for land and water is more evident elsewhere in the world, where population is more dense, arable land diminishing, and farm-to-market channels are more rudimentary.

The North and South poles of the planet are unpopulated for a reason; harsh weather. Conversely, the majority of the world’s people live where climate is more ideal, along the equator, the same place best suited to grow food. This sets up a dilemma of great importance for everyone, the same dilemma operating in North American but hidden from view. People want to live where it is sunny and warm and infrastructure accommodates them, not coincidentally the very place where plants grow best. The farmers who grow feeds for animal protein production will be under growing pressure to vacate these commodious lands to make room for people. Over time, animal production facilities will have to move further from population centers, the feed they use will have to be transported further, and it will suffer in quality when relocated to less fertile land.

Enter the ruminant. Due to a clever arrangement by nature, the ruminant is shielded from the man-animal protein competition. You will note that the ruminant was mentioned above, but this was feedlot beef. These beef are actually fed on a very high grain finishing ration, never intended by nature, and far less common in emerging economies than the US.  In feedlots, they are not functioning as traditional ruminants, and correctly belong in the category with chickens and hogs competing directly with man.  The term ruminant refers to an animal with a mutually beneficial cooperation with microbes in its gut.  These microbes predigest what the ruminant eats, invariably fibrous plants, allowing them to thrive on food that is valueless for man (or chicken or hog).  Given the rapidly expanding worldwide demand for animal protein, this ability of the ruminant is a huge advantage in the long term picture.  The ruminant may be banished along with the chicken and hog from the fertile valleys of the equatorial zone, but unlike the chicken and hog, its fate will be less compromised.  The ruminant can still thrive, reproduce and produce on the steppes and plains of the temperate zones, thanks to its symbiotic relationship with gut bacteria.  This is not to say profitability will be the same as a grain based system, but a forage based program can still yield both meat and milk.  Indeed, just such a system already operates in many of the world’s emerging economies.

In our years of perfecting feed conversion of technically supported ruminants, we have come to understand that the critical point of efficiency and feed conversion is the digestibility of a fiber fraction of the diet known as neutral detergent fiber, or NDF. Traditionally, animal nutritionists have pushed NDF values as low as possible without disrupting digestive health, yet it remains the rate limiting nutrient to increased feed conversion.  NDF is not very digestible, yet it is required by the bacteria for their optimum metabolic efficiency.  It is a two-edged sword, required for animal health, but detrimental to production if too high.  Thus, a way to improve NDF digestion in ruminants could have profound impact for feeding the world. Temple-Inland, a forest products company in Texas, has perfected just such an improvement.

They have shown that hemicellulose extract, a byproduct of building material production, when fed to ruminants, can increase NDF digestion by over 20%.  In US markets, this claim can come across as rather mundane when compared to all the other products touting features of purported equal benefit for a farmer’s bottom line.  Besides, in the US, it still makes economic sense to feed grains, the traditional means of circumventing the bottleneck of low NDF digestibility.

However, consider one situation typical of the world’s emerging economies.  Meat from beef and milk are much valued commodities, with demand increasing due to improved living standards.  But the price of meat and milk are also being driven up because grains are coveted by chicken and hog producers, and production facilities are increasingly more remote from population centers, adding to the fossil fuel component of the grocery store price. A 20% increase in the NDF digestion of a ruminant feed would permit identical performance on 2 kilos less grain, or one kilo more milk on the same ration.

This concept gains even more momentum when the agriculture management of poor countries is studied.  Cattle are often raised in tropical or semi-tropical forests, grazing on the fibrous forage and browse they can find. Calves intended for beef production nurse half the day, then are isolated and the mother’s milk harvested for consumption by people. Up against the constraints of a subsistence economy, poor infrastructure and unavailable quality feeds, such a system is a utilitarian solution in an otherwise difficult setting. The gain of one kilo of milk per cow each day would help feed a lot of people. A kilo of milk a day will dramatically improve the nutrition, and future, of 10 children.

The Hopes and Hazards of Raw Pet Food

Posted by on Nov 10, 2014 in case studies | 2 comments

The Hopes and Hazards of Raw Pet Food

People charged with overseeing the safety of our food supply have a crucial role in society that is not properly appreciated. In a westernized community, food borne illness is so rare that citizens take food safety for granted. In the United States, the probability of a lethal food poisoning from any one meal is one in 73 million1. Such stellar success actually makes it difficult for authorities to get anyone to listen to them, except in moments of high drama or sudden fear. So maybe we should be more attentive when they sternly rap the desk...

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The care and feeding of a dairy nutritionist

Posted by on Jul 26, 2013 in blog | 0 comments

The care and feeding of a dairy nutritionist

In the beginning. Animal nutritionists are invariably ag school graduates. We don’t talk much about our ag school system anymore, but it was a driving force is America’s rapid rise to prominence in world commerce. In the 1860’s our government authorized the Morrill Land Grant Act, setting aside land in each state for a school for agriculture and engineering (Cornell, Penn State, Kansas State, etc.). This was soon followed by the creation of an Ag Extension Service, intended as a conduit for tech transfer. Today, the extension agent is less of...

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What to Feed Your Dog

Posted by on Apr 30, 2013 in blog | 3 comments

What to Feed Your Dog

Rhetorically speaking. In a book about the fate of human societies, the author framed the discussion with a rhetorical question, why did European decedents come to dominate Native Americans instead of the other way around, with Geronimo scalping the king of England.  In this book, Garrad Diamond went on to answer this question with convincing insight.  The discussion here could be framed by another rhetorical question: Why, if fat is the problem, has per capita consumption of fat gone down precipitously for the past 30 years, yet obesity has...

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The Biologic Value Of Protein

Posted by on Apr 2, 2013 in blog | 1 comment

The Biologic Value Of Protein

Quality of protein gets little attention.  Do you realize that it is possible for a diet that is 17% protein to be more nutritious than one that is 28% protein?  The average pet owner thinks the higher the protein of a diet the better.  This is not true at all.  If the Dodgers had played the Padres and I told you the score of the ball game was 5, and said no more, you’d think me quite stupid.  The final score of a ball game involves two numbers, and one number is not enough information.  It is exactly the same thing regarding the protein in a...

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Feed the World

Posted by on Feb 5, 2013 in blog | 0 comments

Feed the World

Our ambition to feed the world is soothed by images of monster grain barges tugging down the Mississippi.  In reality, quiet, unassuming breakthroughs in technology that can be applied on site will ultimately contribute more. In the world of modern agriculture, the chicken, hog and beef feedlot facilities all focus on one number to access their profit and competitiveness. That number is feed conversion, used as the only criteria for any and every management decision. Their complete focus is the amount of grain required to produce a pound of...

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Case Study: Adaptability Perfected by Lack

Posted by on Dec 19, 2012 in case studies | 0 comments

Case Study: Adaptability Perfected by Lack

The eloquence of lack: Billions of years of dealing with lack have made mammals good at it.  As a biological entity, mammals have an exact and precise set of enzymes, hormones, and all attendant molecular machinery that evolved by Darwinian selection. By the dawn of upright man, about four million years ago, this biochemistry was within 2% of today’s precision. One could argue that mammals are the ultimate designer product, having their gene pool skillfully crafted and engineered to interface with their environment with maximum efficiency....

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Posted by on Dec 19, 2012 in slider | 0 comments

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