Powdered Probiotics?

by K. H. Frank
As one looks at a pigeon one's eyes focus on just this individual and yet this physical being is home to billions of other creatures sharing the gastrointestinal system and the skin generally in a symbiotic relationship. The bird's body provides food as well as a warm and moist environment to various bacteria and it in turn receives vitamins manufactured by them. In health, the pigeon could be likened to the garden of Eden as all micro-organisms within it are living in harmony, a harmony that could be destroyed quite easily through the senseless administration of anti-biotics.
These beneficial bacteria or probiotics (pro-bios = for life) generally like a somewhat acidic environment and keep it this way by fermenting various carbohydrates to lactic acid. This acidic environment keeps other would-be homesteaders such as salmonella and yeasts at bay. Bacteria, friendly to our bird, also produce other substances toxic to salmonella. As a result, salmonella will be kept out as long as there is a high enough concentration of symbiotic bacteria covering the intestinal surfaces. There is just no place for disease-causing organisms to attach themselves and establish a home.
The above is an equilibrium established by nature over millions of years. Along comes man in his "infinite wisdom" and may decide that the birds need to be "treated". Antibiotics (anti-bios = against life) are cheap and readily available. The poor symbiotic bacteria in the bird's intestinal tract are destroyed save a few which are resistant to the drug. Nevertheless, the variety and concentration of this beneficial population declines greatly, literally leaving the door wide open for the not-so-friendly variety, such as salmonella and yeasts. It is now easier for them to set up home and it becomes very difficult to remove them once they are established, especially yeasts. One could certainly use antibiotics against them but, given that the number of organisms is large enough, there will always be some resistant to an antibiotic. These resistant ones, selected by the antibiotic, will fill the void and occupy the homes vacated by those which were sensitive. The longer the antibiotic is applied, the greater the likelihood that the gastointestinal tract will harbor only organisms resistant to the antibiotic in question at the concentration used.
It will do no good to feed vinegar to these birds in an attempt to acidify the intestinal contents because the vinegar is neuralized, digested and absorbed in the small intestine as is the hydrochloric acid with which the food is mixed in the stomach. A solution would be to find a suitable antibiotic effective in the concentration in which it is used against the large majority of problematic bacteria as there are always some which are resistant. "Hit it hard" for a short period of time and flood the gastrointestinal tract after that with a wide variety of friendly and beneficial bacteria for an extended period of time as very few will survive the barrier of HCl and the various other digestive enzymes. If all goes well the few surviving micro-organims can establish a new gastrointestinal bacterial flora, helping to keep undesirable organisms such as salmonella and yeasts out.
My dear mother used to wash the bread in an attempt to remove possible surface contamination and pigeon fanciers are trying to do the same by scraping and cleaning the loft of all excrement. However, considering the size of bacteria, one soon realizes that our efforts in getting the bird's environment sterile is fraught with failure.
It was on a glorious spring day that I let the birds out of the loft after a long stay inside during the winter. As I was watching the birds I was actually shocked to see them literally running toward the droppings left on the roof from the previous autumn as if they were the most delicious of morsels.
Coprophagy of this kind is not unique to pigeons. It has been reported in ostriches. I have also seen it in dogs and it is known perhaps best in rabbits who receive all the essential nutrients contained therein. One of the essential nutrients in pigeon droppings coming to mind is vitamin B-12 or cobalamin. It is synthesized by bacteria in the colon from which very little is probably absorbed. Absorption would be much more complete in the small intestine which can occur upon the ingestion of droppings, hopefully also teeming with beneficial bacteria.
Compounds with vitamin B-12 activity are synthesized also by many soil micro organisms but they are not synthesized by higher plants and animals. Animals therefore require an outside source which is easy enough for carnivores as liver, eggs, milk, meats and fish contain large amounts of this vitamin. Herbivores, on the other hand, needed to utilize other methods such as the rabbits mentioned above. Pigeons in the wild, natural state would be expected to receive their supply by ingesting soil with its population of micro organisms or drinking water "contaminated" with bacteria capable of synthesizing vitamin B-12.
These pigeons living in the wild may therefore fare better than their locked up and pampered cousins in many respects. Their environment "contaminated" with micro-organisms as it is, supplies many essential nutrients and continuously "re-infects" them with beneficial bacteria, keeping away the harmful variety. It has happened that one of my birds returned after having been lost for many weeks. There is nothing unusual in that except that I could hardly recognize the bird. It looked so much better than when I sent it to the race and yet it had to look for feed with all its wild cousins and certainly never did receive a "balanced" ration. No, a sterile environment may not be the best for either man or beast.
It is now many years ago that I first read parts of Wendell Levi's "The Pigeon". In those days, I also tried to sterilize the birds' environment by scraping all surfaces at least once a day. What a difference of perspective Mr. Levi's "powdered droppings" represent. These powdered droppings have resulted in a reduction of diseases at the Palmetto Pigeon Plant. Wendell Levi therefore wrote shortly after 1950: "The days of 'scrape, scrub, and spray' are over!"
Are they really? Factors such as the easy accessibility to antibiotics may have led us astray in promising health for our birds and yet real health requires an environment conducive to life. Optimum health does not come out of a bottle but can be obtained by imitating the conditions found among the wild relatives of our birds. but we must also make sure that the water is not chlorinated, as chlorine would surely kill our bacterial culture.
Providing probiotics this way need not be expensive at all. I purchased some "Bird and Reptile Bene Bac" (Pet-Ag, Inc.), containing five beneficial species of bacteria, and mixed it with the contents of some "Acidophilus Pro-Biotic Complex" (C.E. Jamieson & Company Limited) capsules, which supplied a further 4 bacterial species. 5 ml of this powder is mixed in 1 L distilled water to which were added 60 ml skim milk, 3 ml sugar and 1 ml multi-vitamins. 750 ml of this mixture was added to the water in the drinker the following day after shaking it for a couple of seconds to temporarily suspend the sediment. To the remaining 250 ml we needed to add 60 ml skim milk, 3 ml sugar, 1 ml multi-vitamins and enough distilled water to get 1 L of solution. Let it stand at room temperature again until the next day when Ύ of it can be removed and "contaminate" the drinking water. This procedure can be repeated an indefinite number of times and is very inexpensive. The only precautions are to not use chlorinated water and not to introduce harmful bacteria to this culture. However, the acidity of the culture medium would discourage the growth of most undesirable micro-organisms and is our ally. This culture floods the gastrointestinal system with beneficial organisms and leads to this same flora being present in the droppings. Mr. Levi's "powdered droppings" could translate into "powdered beneficial bacteria" or "powdered probiotics" as long as coccidial oocysts, worm eggs or pathogemic micro-organicms are absent. In a loft where constant use is made of a good probiotic, only worm eggs need to be excluded by the prior use of a wormer.

The above notwithstanding, I need to add a word of caution:
Overdosing birds with these(!) probiotics will overwhelm the GIT of the birds exposed and lead to vomiting and diarrhea, symptoms seen also in "young bird sickness".
Correct dosing is made easier by using a product such as PrimaLac® ( Nuhn Bio - Tech at 1-800-965-9127 for Canada) which is water soluble and can be used in the drinking water as well as sprayed into pigeon lofts. Doing so after a thorough cleaning will transform the pigeons' environment into one where the birds can pick up some beneficial bacteria by pecking on the floor and perches rather than having them possibly pick up some pathogenic ones.

Such a product containing Lactobacillus salivarius is available under the name TS-6, and was used in May, June, and July 2002 at the Alberta Classic Derby but it did neither lead to any noticeable improvement in the youngsters' resistance to "young bird sickness" nor in the breeding birds producing youngsters more immune to this disease.
The claim is that TS-6 leads also to: The problem I see with TS-6 is that it consists of a single bacterial species but a healthy intestinal tract harbors many dozen different species. Supplying perhaps a hundred different bacterial species would be expected to challenge the adult bird's immune system and thus lead to the production of a multitude of different antibodies which the adult pigeon could then transfer to the developing youngster in its crop milk. Such a procedure would be expected to lead to the creation of robust youngsters who would be well armed against micro organisms.

The beneficial effects of Lactobacilli can also be found in
this randomised, double blind, placebo controlled study over seven months was published in the British Medical Journal in 2001 showing that

Would our birds not benefit from less antibiotics and better immunity to disease?

Should you purchase a commercial product for probiotic use, please be certain that these bacteria are alive! What could have been the best probiotic in the world is completely useless if the micro-organism are dead. One can check this by adding a bit of this probiotic powder to some distilled water and milk powder. Let it stand at room temperature. If that milk has not curdled in a day at 37°C, the probiotic in it is very likely no longer alive and is therefore useless for our purposes.

One of my friends could not get his "probiotic" to curdle milk in a day and wrote the company in question about his difficulty. Here is part of the answer of the company's microbiologist:
"From personal experience I have never had success growing any lactic acid bacteria in milk. I realize conventional wisdom and teaching says that Lactobacilli will grow and curdle milk media. We were taught that in college (Litmus milk was the media we were taught to use in college classroom lectures). However, in the afternoon in the lab, we could never get a reliable response from Lactobacilli in milk. Occasionally some species of L. bulgaricus would grow, but not any of the bacteria used in probiotics. So, I never use milk as a determining media in Lactobacillus analysis."
The above disturbed me enough to get some pure culture of Lactobacillus acidophilus which I attempted to grow:

The lesson from the above is that one should never ignore one's own common sense and believe blindly the advice of some authority.


From reading the references I cited in the various pages on probiotics it should be obvious that the use of probiotics can have many desirable consequences for us as well as for the livestock under our care.

Large One Loft Derbies are often plagued with disease outbreaks and I was consequently curious as to whether the strengthening of the immune system through the early administration of probiotics would be beneficial for the youngsters participating in such an event.

    12 young birds were treated in the following fashion:
  • One randomly chosen youngster of each of 6 nests was marked at hatching and received a drop of a probiotic mixture by mouth while the nest mate received the same amount of water every day until the birds were ready to wean at 25 days of age.
  • All of these young birds were entered in and shipped to the same large derby.
  • The birds receiving the probiotics did not perform any better than their nest mates.

The above is, however, no indication that the use of probiotics is without any value. It is possible that the young and immature immune system was unable to respond to the challenge or was overwhelmed by the challenge resulting in a setback rather than a beneficial change.

In 2004 I was supplying my old birds a mixture of various probiotics on their daily grain and was pleased with their health indicated by their eagerness to exercise. These birds received this mixture daily without any ill effects.

An interesting parallel:
Original article can be found at http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2007/11/13/fecal-transplant.html

Don't poo-poo technique: Fecal transplant can cure superbug, doctors say

More than 90 per cent of C. difficile patients are cured by fecal transplants, studies suggest.

Last Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2007 | 10:17 AM MT

A controversial new treatment, which involves the transplantation of human waste, can treat cases of C. difficile infection. But only a handful of physicians in Canada undertake the messy procedure.
Left unchecked, C. difficile bacteria can cause chronic diarrhea, leaving sufferers virtually confined to their bathrooms.(CBC)
Clostridium difficile is a super bug that commonly spreads in hospital settings and has been linked to the deaths of at least 2,000 people in Quebec since 2003, as well as in other provinces.
Though C. difficile can be kept in check by good bacteria in the bowel, problems can arise when the super bug is treated by antibiotics such as vancomycin. The antibiotics sometimes wipe out the good bacteria but fail to completely kill the C. difficile — leaving enough of it that it later flourishes.
"If you wipe out the normal bacteria by taking an antibiotic, then this bug overgrows and it releases a toxin which causes severe diarrhea," Dr. Mike Silverman, an internal medicine specialist from Ajax, Ont., told CBC News.
According to him, the diarrhea can become chronic day after day and month after month. "It's painful, people can't get on with their lives … and if doctors can't keep a patient hydrated and nourished, it can be deadly."
Calgary resident Dorothy Badry battled C. difficile for almost a year in 2004.
"You are going to the bathroom at least 40 times a day. And there is a lot of pain associated with that. Your skin starts to break down and the process is extremely painful."
During that time, Badry could not work and could not care for her disabled daughter. "I basically had to give up everything," she said.

Calgary doctor is one of few doing transplants

Fecal transplants have become the first-line treatment for chronic recurrent C. difficile in Scandinavia. As well, more and more doctors are using it in the United States.
Studies that have been published show that more than 90 per cent of patients are cured through fecal transplants — most of them after just one treatment.
But only a handful of doctors in Canada are willing to undertake the unpleasant procedure which involves taking a healthy person's fecal matter and transplanting it into a person infected with C. difficile.
They cite sanitation reasons for their hesitation.
Calgary physician Dr. Tom Louie, head of infection control at Foothills Hospital, is one of the few physicians in Canada who treats patients with chronic C. difficile with fecal transplants, or fecal therapy. He has done 38 procedures to date.
The procedure involves getting a close relative of the patient, such as a sibling, to donate several days-worth of stool. Louie tests the stool for diseases such as hepatitis and HIV and then mixes it with saline to create liquid feces. He then administers the stool to the patient through a barium enema.
Louie said the technique allows good bacteria from the transplanted stool to reduce the number of C. difficile bacteria in the intestines and to restore normal intestinal function.
He said the process is fairly quick. "It takes me about an hour and I leave it in there overnight. I'm hoping that some of these normal bugs will come and find a home, and when they find a home it will kick out the C. difficile."

'It cured me,' Toronto woman says

Marcia Munro, a Toronto resident, received a fecal transplant from her sister Wendy Sinukoff after suffering from C. difficile for 14 months several years ago.
'This procedure cured me.… I know many people die from C. difficile and I want people to know there is hope when you have this illness.'—Marcia Munro
"I had to collect stool samples for five days prior to our leaving Toronto, and I collected it in an ice cream container and kept it in the fridge," said Sinukoff.
She had to then fly the samples to Calgary so that Louie could transplant it into her sister — a process that involved getting the sample through airport security.
"My biggest fear was that my samples were not allowed to be frozen, so I had to take them as carry-on luggage in the airplane and I was terrified that I was going to be asked to have my luggage searched," she said.
Munro said the transplant was a success.
"It cured me. This procedure cured me and one of reasons I agreed to do this story — because it's difficult to talk about — is I know many people die from C. difficile and I want people to know there is hope when you have this illness."
This page was last up-dated on January 10, 2005

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