By Philip A. Wheeler, Ph.D.
One of the main problems with factory farm production is how to keep the animals or fowl healthy [or at least alive till slaughter] in spite of all the factors that would make it unhealthy. The decision to use both sub-therapeutic and therapeutic drugs has allowed factory farming to survive, but the damaging effects to humans may take decades to undue.
Becoming a sustainable, organic or bio-dynamic grower would preclude the use of many of the factory farm concepts, but some of the problems can still remain. Any herd or flock situation increases the chance of communicable diseases. Every farm on the “right path” does not have total and complete remineralization of their soils, total and complete micro-organism replenishment and balance, the perfect blend or grasses, legumes and herbs in the pasture, perfect weather or the perfect ration. If this was so, there would be no need for animal supplements, probiotics, wormers or drenchers, or veterinarian calls to any farm using the “right paradigm”.
The main problems of bacteria, viral and fungal organisms are still out there. Blood urea nitrogen and ammonia can still reduce production. Weather stresses can still occur. Breeding and birthing can still be accompanied by problems.
There are several legitimate approaches to these problems for the informed grower. Probiotics can be used to increase the intestinal flora, mineral supplements can be fed, clay products can be fed to help absorb ammonia and high doses of vitamins, herbs or phytonutrients can be used.
One of the best, most natural and cost effect approaches is the use of garlic (Allium stativum) of the lily family. Garlic is the most commonly uses remedial herb in the animal world. Its’ amazing properties include its direct use as an antibiotic (including anti-viral and anti-fungal), an internal and external controller of parasites, an immune system builder/enhancer and a production increaser. Garlic has been used since some of the earliest civilizations as a medicine for humans. Like all other “fold medicines”, it took a long time for the “experts” to actually test it and prove that it did have the reported attributes. Even though Louis Pasteur, the father of the germ theory of disease, showed that garlic would fight infections as early as 1858, it is only recently that medical people are conducting more research into its’ potential uses. All the benefits of garlic that have been proven for humans also apply to livestock.
Let’s start with the antibiotic effect while recognizing that garlic contains an amazing number of beneficial compounds that can affect any and all health aspects. One of the main beneficial compounds is allicin, the compound that is responsible for the antibiotic effect as well as the infamous “garlic breath”. The compound allicin is not found in an intact garlic bulb or clove. Individual cells must be broken open to allow the mixing of an amino acid called allinin with an enzyme called allinase which then forms the allicin compound. Now you have a natural antibiotic that is also anti-viral and anti-fungal. Unlike commonly used antibiotics, bacteria do not become resistant to the allicin. Allicin is also effective against a broad range of bacteria, making it an excellent choice for therapeutic or sub-therapeutic use in herd or flock conditions.
Since garlic grows under a wide variety of conditions, it is important to recognize that garlic can vary in its’ strength of compounds according to soil content and conditions. One of the most important elements for growing “powerful” garlic is sulfur. There are over 20 active sulfur compounds that can provide beneficial effects as well as the “odor”. The area around Hollister, CAis the largest growing area for US garlic. I assume or hope that the growers in that area are maintaining their sulfur levels as well as their selenium levels, as that is the second major mineral nutrient providing many of the benefits.
Processing is also a factor in producing a viable product. The effective compounds must be carefully and gently extracted from the pulp and then stabilized for storage or shipment. Evidence of a good extraction is the loss of taste, odor or failure to “rot” of the pulp. Home made brews should usually be used immediately, but concentrated garlic oil, homeopathic remedies or alcohol tinctures will have a longer shelf life. Certified organic commercial products are now available for growers who are not into the “do it yourself” mode.
The second major use or function is parasite control. Most internal parasites are worms or flukes. Chemical or drug helminthics (wormers) are usually poisons that have no place in the routine worming process. There is more known about the repulsion of external parasites using garlic than the mode or efficacy of internal control. In external control the sulfur compounds are carried throughout the body when garlic is taken internally and then expelled through the skin tissue. Sulfur compounds also are expelled through the lungs to give repulsion around the mouth and face areas where flies can be a problem. This is the same mode of action and same compounds that allow garlic to be used for insect repulsion on plants. If a grower cannot introduce the garlic through feedstuffs or supplements, the extracts can be used in the water source. Agitation is recommended if used in the water, as the extracts tend to settle. If the above methods of use are just aren’t feasible, the extracts can be used as an external spray. Garlic is extremely systemic, so the external efficacy is quite good. (Any cook that gets garlic on his or her hands can end up with “garlic breath”.)
The last two effects, immunity building and increased production are hard to separate. Conventional growers routinely use sub-therapeutic does of antibiotics to overcome the immune deficiencies inherent is their systems by killing the organisms that would limit gain. So when garlic juice extract is used as a livestock feed supplement, any immune building can also be translated into fewer unwanted organisms or parasites and more energy going into gain. The gain can be muscle/meat, milk, hair, reproductive success or birth survival.
Well grown and processed garlic contains significant amounts of vitamin C, E and B complex. It also contains the myriad of sulfur compounds and other phtyonutrients that include anti-oxidants. However, the other mineral nutrient that makes garlic a real immune builder and gain producer is selenium (Se). Se. is known as being essential to even having a functioning immune system in humans and animals. As reviewed in my previous article, Mind Your S’s, (sulfur, selenium and silica) selenium is an essential nutrient in a narrow range and “deadly” in either deficiency or excess. Due to fears, regulations and lack of knowledge, selenium supplementation of soils and livestock can be difficult. Even though soil supplementing is usually the best approach, Se can be accessed in the”perfect” form [as part of a plant and accompanied by other valuable synergistic compounds] in garlic extract.
A well produced garlic extract in a finished product should be able to furnish about .1ppm selenium per 2-4 oz of product. Some growers may already know Se levels in pastures, forages, blood levels, etc., while others have not checked at all. A good pasture should provide about .2ppm in the mixture of grasses, legumes, herbs and weeds, but it is doubtful that few eastern, southern and mid-west pastures would provide that amount if soil supplementation has not occurred. So adding garlic extract to the diet has the potential to provide health improvement or gain beyond what they are now experiencing. High producing milk cows, where production records are usually very accurate, show excellent response to Se. Even though there may be few visible symptoms of Se deficiency, “hidden” failure to gain may be occurring just as “hidden” yield loss occurs on most farms due to one or more missing nutrients.
Typical selenium deficiency symptoms include: high somatic cell count; low solids or protein in milk; reduced gain or production; retained placenta; reproductive disorders; death of young soon after birth; metritis, etc. Again, lack of these obvious symptoms does not mean economic gain cannot be experienced with the use of garlic extracts by themselves or blended with other natural compounds. The only way to find out how much more gain can be achieved is to run your own trials with a garlic product.