Protein, protein, protein, It’s BAD for tortoises, right? That is so wrong I will not make any further mention of good or bad.

All living things need protein to live and grow. Babies (neonate tortoises or the seeds of plants for your young tortoise) are growing living things need it even more. What is protein anyways?

Proteins are large biomolecules, or macromolecules, consisting of one or more long chains of amino acid residues. So, damn, what are amino acids? 

Amino acids are organic compounds containing amine (-NH2) and carboxyl (-COOH) functional groups, along with a side chain (R group) specific to each amino acid. Some are considered “ESSENTIAL”, what is that?

An essential amino acid, or indispensable amino acid, is an amino acid that cannot be synthesized de novo (from scratch) by the organism, and thus must be supplied in its diet. The nine amino acids humans cannot synthesize are phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine.

There is NO list of essential amino acids for chelonians. No list, we can only guess. My guess is that it is a shorter list than those for humans. Chelonians have been through many more selection events in their history than humans, so maybe they have a greater ability to synthesis their own, but that is only a guess. Did I mention this is my GUESS.

That R group, what?, the R group (not a Rock band) is the variability of one amino acid to another, it is where more atoms make each amino acid different than the others. The simplest of the amino acids, glycine, has just a hydrogen atom in the position of the Rgroup.

Blah blah blah, Will, this is really boring. 

A USDA nutrient content of food – they give these results . . .…p=&qa=&qn=&q=Lettuce,+cos+or+romaine,+raw&ing=

If you look, in 100 grams of romaine, there is only 1.23 grams of protein (same as percent if you read grams as %). If we back the water out (I’ve never fed dehydrated romaine BTW) the relative protein content becomes 23%. That means once the tortoise does something else with ALL the water in the bite of romaine, it will have 23% protein in that bite.

But how do we know that all the ‘detected protein’ is indeed protein, how is that measured? Let’s keep looking at this one example. When you add up all the amino acids detected they come to a total of .996 grams, not 1.23 grams. The USDA no doubt has some of the best methods and analytical labs in the world; they did not make a mistake. That difference is the error in most all protein analyses.

Individual amino acids are measured by a variety of methods as they have a range of characteristics such no one method can measure them all. They all need a  precise methods to find each type of amino acid molecule. Whereas protein is measured by counting (quantifying) nitrogen alone and multiplying by 6.25.

That same bite of Romaine actually has 18% protein. Still that seems so high? I don’t find that to be the case.

What sparked this waaaaaay to long a narrative is a phone conversation I had with one owner of the largest organic grass farming operation in the United States. He has dug deep into nitrogen content and protein for grasses fed to beef cattle that is sold as organic meat. Non-organic grasses fed to beef cattle have protein content, based on that 6.25 factor of as high as 18 to 22 %, while organic grasses fed to organically raised beef cattle have a protein content of 13 to 14 %, yet the organic beef cattle can put on meat weight at a higher rate per unit of grass. How could this be?

The organic fields are fertilized with composted animal manure, usually chicken. Composting makes raw manure a qualified organic fertilizer for organic field grown plants. The non-organic grower can use straight nitrogen infused into the irrigation water, or for non-irrigated fields carried by some sort of inert particles as a granular or pelleted thing. Those higher protein grasses may get 2 or 3 applications of 250 pounds of nitrogen per acre per growing season. 

That non-organic field will test out at higher “protein” content than the organic field, even though the organic field will have an actual true protein content that is just as high or higher. The actual nearly side by side fields tested at 18% non-organic and 13% organic. That 13% is more relatable to native forbs and grasses tortoises eat in the wild. It is not too high, especially for neonates.