Maintaining blood pH within a narrow range is the first priority of an animal compared with the other body functions (Erdman et al., 1982). Under normal forage feeding conditions, maintenance of rumen, blood and cellular pH within safe ranges poses no problem for the animal. However, the inclusion of high levels of readily fermentable carbohydrates is often necessary to meet the energy requirements of high producing ruminants. Unfortunately, these foods can result in low rumen pHs which can have adverse effects on animal health and performance. When saliva flow is inadequate to counteract excessive ruminal acidity, the use of buffers may be justified. The in vivo studies reviewed by Muller and Kilmer (1979) have shown that the responses to the addition of buffers to dairy cow rations has been variable and inconclusive.
Part of the reason for this uncertainty is because buffer requirements cannot be accurately predicted from the chemical composition of foods, since measurements such as buffering capacity (BC) take no account of changes during fermentation such as the production of volatile fatty acids (VFA), ammonia and the disappearance of the fibre which confers BC. An in vitro approach was adopted for this work since it is difficult to conduct in vivo experiments in this area, owing to the health risks to cows as well as difficulties in distinguishing diet effects because of the strategies employed by cows to overcome excess acidity (e.g. eating rate, salivation, rumination).