In biology lessons at school we learn about the “cell theory” – the fact that our body is made up of trillions of cells that activate different parts of our human DNA in order to specialize in different bodily functions (nerves, veins, muscles, fat, bone… ). In fact we have at least as many cells in and on our bodies that are not human but can also play desirable or undesirable roles. A negative example is the various bacteria that live on our skin and create body odors that we try to suppress. On the bright side, there is a huge and diverse population of microbes that live in our digestive system, and if this “gut microbiome” is made up of “good-guy” strains, we enjoy many health benefits from better digestion to improved spiritual function. better immune response. The health of the microbiome is also very important for the animals that provide us with meat and eggs and dairy products.
Over the past several years there has been a dramatic shift in our understanding of the complex dynamics of these microbial communities. This revolution has been enabled by the skyrocketing cost of DNA sequencing technology—a tool that allows us to identify these microbes quickly and accurately to the species level—something that was never possible just by growing them in the lab.
Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production has been involved with farm animals since the 1930s starting with the venerable sodium bicarbonate product we know as baking soda – and parent company, Church and Dwight, has a 178-year history spanning many industries. ARM & HAMMER moved into the cutting edge realm of microbiomes through the acquisition of a company called Agro BioSciences™. They use modern technologies to monitor the “gut health” of animals but also more broadly to understand what they call “Microbial Terror”. Similar to the concept of Terroir in winemaking which includes the environment in which the grapes are grown, ARM & HAMMER evaluates the environment, feed and housing of animal systems to see what influences may be affecting animal health and productivity . Additionally using manure and tissue samples they can see what is happening inside the animal.
At the ScienceHearted Center in Waukesha, Wisconsin, ARM & HAMMER offers laboratory testing to dairy, beef, swine and poultry farmers to diagnose production or health problems with their animals. They can identify the pathogens present and characterize the levels of key beneficial organisms. For example, if there are several separate houses on a chicken farm and the growth rate in one house is delayed, this may be due to a microbial imbalance or the presence of pathogenic bacteria. Likewise, if some dairy cows’ milk production is substandard, there may be a microbiome problem.
Tackling microbiome problems is a game of matching, finding the right strain or strains of bacteria that will inhibit the growth of the pathogens identified in the laboratory analysis. Over the years, ARM & HAMMER has identified and isolated over 30,000 Bacillus strains they can tap into to find the right match of ‘good bacteria’.
This natural, non-antibiotic approach to pathogen control allows farmers to tackle challenges without a veterinary prescription.
ARM & HAMMER is not the only company looking to provide a natural, probiotic product for farmers, as few, if any, have the extensive library Bacillus executives housed at the ScienceHearted Center. Coupling of Bacillus The library of research and product development capabilities provides ARM & HAMMER scientists with virtually limitless combinations to find the “right” level of colony forming units (CFUs) they need.
“Gut health” and “probiotics” are hot topics for people today, but there is a long history behind these concepts. In the early 1900s, a Russian Nobel laureate named Elie Metchnikoff began documenting the human health benefits of microbes used to make fermented foods such as yogurt. The term “probiotic” was coined by a German scientist named Werner Kollath in 1953, and today many foods and supplements are marketed based on various health and wellness benefits that can result from consuming live, beneficial organisms.
On a similar preventative front, ARM & HAMMER also has other feed supplements for which they have been able to document microbiome benefits. For example, the product CELMANAX™ for animals is based on yeast cell wall material that is digested to produce specific sugars that act as prebiotics. The unique cell wall structure also traps mycotoxins and gram negative (often pathogenic) organisms, allowing them to be removed from the gut before they cause health problems.
They have expanded their product line from cow interiors to bedding used in cattle housing. The current increase in the adoption of sustainability initiatives on dairy farms has created a litter by-product that helps reduce environmental impact, but increases the potential for health problems. The use of beneficial bacteria in the bed, as well as in the gut, prevents the growth of pathogenic microorganisms.
A similar product is also available for use in poultry and swine barns to control pathogens, odors and increase nitrogen retention in manure.
Overall, this is an encouraging example of using advanced technology with natural solutions to improve animal health and well-being in addition to efficient production and resource utilization.