Doc’s Blog

Lactobacillus —the Sour-milk Bacteria

Lactobacilli are almost ubiquitous in our natural environment, being present in milk and on growing plants.  Considering that our use of yogurt and cheese goes back into antiquity, lactobacilli have benefited mankind for a long time. 

 My first recollection of lactobacilli use in animals goes back to the 1930s.  My Uncle Gustave was a seasonal grazer and dairyman in central Missouri.  During the summer months, he and his wife, Aunt Anna, milked 8 or 10 cows — twice a day — by hand.  They didn’t have a dairy barn or stanchions but milked their cows out in the cow lot. The only restraint was a few randomly placed feed boxes to keep the cows occupied while being milked — very bucolic. 


The milk was put through a hand-cranked cream separator.  When they had filled a 10 -gallon cream can they would take it to the railroad station in town where it was picked up and shipped to St. Louis. While at the station, he retrieved an empty can or two to take home for the next batch of cream.

The skim milk, loaded with natural occurring lactobacilli, soon turned sour, clabbered up, and eventually was fed to the chickens or pigs. Skim milk, corn, and wheat shorts, was a balance ration for swine.  Given the high protein content of the corn back then, soy-bean meal was not needed to balance the ration. This scenario, repeated thousands of times, was probably the start of feeding lacto to animals. While many folks observed the benefits of feeding sour milk, it was not commercialized as it is today.  

After Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, in 1927, the search for other antibiotics was on. A soil sample from Sanborn Field at the University of Missouri in Columbia, contained a bacterium that exuded a golden-yellow chemical. In tests, the compound killed a wide array of disease bacteria, and Aureomycin or Chlortetracycline, the first broad-spectrum antibiotic was patented in 1948 by Lederle Laboratories, a division of the American Cyanamid Company.  

At about the same time, a poultry nutritionist at Lederle laboratories added a couple of ounces of the left-over growth medium used in the production of aureomycin to a pen of chicks.  The increased growth rate and health of the birds was amazing. He shared the result with colleagues in the animal nutrition community. It didn’t take long for the idea of feeding antibiotics to animals to catch on.  The feed additive, “Aureomycin Crumbles” could soon be found in almost any livestock facility. 

You probably wonder what all this has to do with Lactobacilli! Consider this: the use of antibiotics in livestock started a tsunami of changes in agriculture that still affect us today.  

  • The ability of antibiotics to control bacterial infections, common when animals are crowded together in unsanitary conditions, opened the door for the rise of the common and controversial CAFO’s (Confined Animal Feeding Operations). 
  • In combination with antibiotic abuses by the Medical profession, feeding low-levels of antibiotics to livestock started the leap-frog contest between the resulting antibiotic resistant bacteria and new antibiotics. 

Lactobacilli and other related beneficial microorganisms have the ability to alleviate and to some extent repair the damage done by the antibiotics. It also has a beneficial effect on intestinal bacteria damaged by glyphosate.  There is also some evidence Lactobacilli and related microbes might take the place of antibiotics in the treatment of diseases.

I don’t remember when the commercialization of lactobacillus fermented products really started — it was a gradual thing. In the beginning it received a lot of negative feedback from university nutritionists as well as other people in the feed industry. 

 Nevertheless, innovative companies and individuals began to support the use of concentrated lacto products with varying results as the knowledge grew of how to best use these products. Soon there was a wide range of Lactobacillus products available for use in animals and humans alike.

 In my vet practice in the late 70s I used a condensed cultured whey product. It was a highly acidic liquid for oral use. Since it did not contain any live organisms, in today’s terminology it would be classified as a “pre-biotic.  It had the ability to normalize and promote the growth of beneficial intestinal microflora.  I used it in any of my patients with digestive problems.  It worked well whenever I used it. 

There are many new lactobacillus products available. It is gratifying to know many of the old tried and true formulae are still available — and still effective.   The product I referred to above is one such product that has stood the test of time. It is known as “Pro Bi” — available from Advanced Biological Concepts.

Check it out at: