That kefir stuff
Firstly, I pronounce it all wrong. I say "Key-fa" but it is "Ku-fear". It is actually a Turkish word that means something like: "long life" or "good life".
What is it? I was expecting it to be a special type of grain like wheat or barley when I first heard of kefir grains. Nothing could be further from the truth! Kefir "grains" are actually a white, jelly like substance that looks like small pieces of cauliflower. It is a complex structure of bacteria, yeasts etc.
Where does it come from?
These unusual naturally occurring organisms originated in the Northern Caucasus Mountain region (bordered by Russia, Turkey & Iran). Records closely associate kefir with the long, healthy lives of the Caucasian people.
What does it survive on?
There's two main "types" of kefir available: water and milk. The organisms in the grains need food to grow and multiply. Basically the food is sugar. In water kefir, sugar & molasses is added to water. In milk kefir …… milk is used.
Should cows milk be used for dog kefir?
Lots of dogs can't properly digest the sugar in cow's milk (lactose) and it can give them an upset tummy. As the kefir digests the lactose in cows milk during it's fermentation process, it's fine to feed to lactose intolerant dogs. Fermentation is basically the breakdown of sugar (eg. lactose) by bacteria & yeast. Some people say that goats milk should be used, not cows milk. I can see no reason for this.
Is kefir as beneficial as yoghurt & probiotics?
Absolutely - and then some. It actually contains about 30 different strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast. YEAST you might say! The good thing about the kefir yeasts is that they kill the bad yeasts that cause dogs harm.
Why is kefir so good?
Studies show that it helps animals resist infection and parasites. It appears to have some antibacterial and antifungal properties. Some say it aids with gas, helps with allergies and heals infection.
I started feeding it after Bess's last litter and within a week she was almost "jumping out of her skin". Gestation, whelping and caring for puppies is hard work. There is the unenviable task of eating all the puppies' poos, among many other things. Bitches need frequent, high quality food to manage milk production and always drop in condition almost immediately. This is one of the reasons I quite like bitches to carry a little extra weight during gestation.
The photo shows a few of my milk kefir grains on a plate. I may have created a monster, as they are multiplying quite well. This is actually good in two ways. The kefir grains are beneficial to feed. Their multiplication also facilitates sharing them around.
What to do with this stuff!
Milk kefir grains are very easy to deal with. I place about 2 teaspoons of grains with a cup of milk in a glass jar. My jars are getting bigger and multiplying. I leave them in a darkish spot (on the bench - not in the cupboard or I might forget about them - although in a cupboard would be ideal) for 24 hours. Sometimes I stir them a couple of times. Sometimes I ignore them. To start with I covered with paper towel. Now I sit the jar lid on top, but not "closed" on the jars. Each morning I stir them well and strain off (just with a spoon) about 2 to 3 tablespoons worth of kefir onto each dog's food. If I'm getting too many grains I let some fall into the food too. Then I rinse the grains with water (I think you're supposed to use milk but I'm too thrifty to waste it) and pop them in clean jars with milk. It is recommended that metal be avoided around kefir grains.