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Farm dirt and barn dander — it does a body good!

jaclyn krymowski


We all know kids are building up a good work ethic when scraping barn alleys or working show stock. But here’s another benefit they may be developing you probably didn’t think of: gut health and respiratory immunity! Generations were raised sold on the idea that letting kids romp around the farm and get dirty was a positive. Now, we have more research to back that up.

Some agricultural positivity made national headlines when researchers from Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, published in Frontiers in Immunology, released their recent one-of-a-kind study comparing urban and farm-raised infants. The researchers looked at the gastrointestinal bacteria and other microbes of 10 Ohio infants. Five were from active Amish farms with livestock. The other half were from relatively nearby urban communities and had no known contact with livestock or farm environments.

Fecal samples from the subjects showed the children raised on a farm had a much healthier, more diverse gut microbiome than urban dwelling ones. The urban samples were found to dominantly have Atinobacteria and Bacteroidetes phyla, whereas the Amish ones were primarily Firmicutes. The differences in these two biomes could potentially mean development of stronger, more robust and healthy immune systems, especially concerning the respiratory tract.

Researchers credit much of these findings to livestock exposure and living in an overall less sanitary environment. This is in line with other studies from multiple countries suggesting the same thing — babies and children living in rural, not-too-sanitized environments tend to have more vigorous immune systems. Studies have also shown a link between rural environments with a decrease in asthma and allergies among residents because of this.

This information is certainly intriguing and quite relevant to urbanites and rural citizens. But the study didn’t stop there — researchers went a step further to test their findings. This was conducted using piglets as a model for humans.

Fecal transplants from the infants were used to colonize microbes in the digestive tracts of gnotobiotic piglets. Gnotobiotic animals are laboratory animals who are entirely “germ free,” birthed into a completely sterile environment to conduct research such as this.

The Amish-raised gut microbes had a distinct connection to building stronger immunity, particularly with the lymphoid and myeloid immune cells.

Some previous similar research has used mice as models instead of pigs. However swine, with their similarity in anatomy, physiology, genetic composition, and immune systems to humans, proved to be a better model for such studies as illustrated in this research. Researchers noted this study is an important step to further explore microbial digestion and immune system functions in swine models.

The farm atmosphere creates a very unique environment that optimizes gut biome of infants and young children. As more children and families are reared further from the farm, many scientists and doctors suggest greater exposure to the natural environment in some capacity. In fact, probiotics in the future may be developed specifically to mimic the diversified bacteria accumulated from livestock and agricultural environments.

Luckily, farm families are already ahead of the game. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Send those kids out to pitch some stalls and wrangle some hogs. Science says it’s good for them!


Jaclyn Krymowski is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a major in animal industries and minor in agriculture communications. She is an enthusiastic agvocate, professional freelance writer, and blogs at

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