Dr. Xandra Smith, manager of microbial ecology and genetics (left) and Ben Towns, global business director (Photo by eFeedLink)

Last year, Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production announced the discovery of two Bacillus strains, Bacillus subtilis 839 (effective against diverse E. coli strains from both ruminants and poultry) and Bacillus subtilis 4976 (effective against E. coli, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens and other clostridial bacteria in poultry, swine and beef and dairy cattle).

These are incorporated into its CERTILLUS products for poultry, swine and cattle producers.

With pathogens constantly emerging and evolving, LIVESTOCK & FEED Business spoke to Dr. Xandra Smith, manager of microbial ecology and genetics as well as Ben Towns, global business director, to find how the company discovers new microbial strains to prevent animal disease, what exactly is the Microbial Terroir process and how custom CERTILLUS solutions are developed for customers.

How big is the Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production microbial research team?

Dr. Xandra Smith: Our research laboratory is based in Wisconsin, with 25 scientists and support from our sales teams constantly providing samples from farms to the laboratory. This assists the laboratory team with monitoring pathogens on farms and looking out for emerging pathogens or highly virulent pathogens. Based on this information, our team develops Targeted Microbial Solutions that provide animals with beneficial microbial strains to control specific disease-causing pathogens.

What is the process in discovering new microbial strains for ARM & HAMMER Targeted Microbial Solutions?

Dr. Xandra Smith: Pathogens keep changing, so we are continually screening for novel functions in Bacillus strains and Lactobacillus strains. We have a library of over 50,000 strains, both bacilli and lactic acid bacteria that we have collected from environmental samples. We use molecular techniques to conduct a primaryscreen, then we perform functional screens on the strains with positive results to see if they actually do inhibit pathogens. Sometimes we will find a strain that will specifically inactivate or prevent the growth of only Enterococcus cecorum, for example. On the other hand, our new Bacillus subtilis 4976 has broad spectrum activity that seems to inhibit quite a few of the bacteria in our pathogen panel.

It's like antibiotics – some are broad-spectrum, some are more targeted. There's no one Bacillus that's going to affect every pathogen. Even if you get one that's very good against Enterococcus cecorum, it's not going to inhibit every strain of Enterococcus cecorum. That's why we keep developing our pathogen panel and continuously develop new strains to combat emerging pathogens.

We also select for immunological properties to strengthen livestock's immune systems, in order to build resiliency in animals. But that is apart from the existing Microbial Terroir process.

How is Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production able to develop custom solutions for customers? Does sampling methods vary for farms of different sizes?

Ben Towns: It depends on the livestock species and operation. We know that each operation has its own Microbial Terroir, the unique microbial makeup of the environment and animals on that operation.

For poultry, we look at the entire complex, obtaining samples from the breeders, chicks at day of hatch and from the broilers at each week of age to find out the diversity and level of pathogens. From there, we find out which Targeted Microbial Solutions have the best efficacy against the majority of the pathogens in that complex, based on its Microbial Terroir.

For a dairy or feedyard operation, we can design a farm-specific solution for larger facilities. For smaller farms, it is more region specific -– we obtain samples from several farms in the area and consider the available products specific to that region. Take Florida and California for in stance, which use different harvesting and feeding practices, resulting in different bacterial challenges. With that in mind, we can develop different CERTILLUS product formulations with Targeted Microbial Solutions for each region.

How does the process begin? Do producers log a report with the sales team?

Ben Towns: If producers are losing birds or cattle and they know there is a pathogenic challenge, this is a critical issue, especially if they don't know what is wrong. After we have conducted the initial sampling and feeding intervention, we often see an immediate response.

But there is a larger segment of our customers who realise that something isn’t quite right. In the example of a dairy operation, perhaps milk production isn't at the level it should be or maybe the manure isn't as consistent. There might be something off with the animal's gut. These scenarios aren't as evident as losing animals and are more common, but our solutions are able to remove uncertainty and develop a resilient herd to withstand the inevitable challenges they face.

Dr. Xandra Smith: Pathogens are always in the environment, but their effects may be subclinical and that's what we discover from the samplings. Perhaps it is E.coli or Clostridium perfringens that are hindering the livestock's performance in some way.

We do return to farms and facilities that are using our interventions after the initial sampling to monitor the changing pathogens and take into account changing seasons and new livestock additions. This is so we can select the most effective blend of Targeted Microbial Solutions in the CERTILLUS product for that producer. We also want to make sure that there isn't a spike of something we are missing, for example if producers switch feed ingredients.

What can we expect to see from Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production in the future?

Ben Towns: ARM & HAMMER will continue to innovate, impact global markets and create new solutions to help producers be more profitable and productive. We are in the process of making the microbial technologies and offerings mentioned by Dr. Smith available globally. For instance, we have sampled 25 large dairy farms in China for future market availability of CERTILLUS.

Dr. Xandra Smith: Specifically in innovation, we are currently looking at early colonising bacteria, because we believe that builds the foundation for livestock's immune development, physiological characteristics and digestion. In mammals, there's a vertical transmission of the right bacteria from mother to child, but in poultry we have been taking the eggs away from breeder hens. While this in the interest of food safety and prevents the spread of pathogens, it also prevents beneficial bacteria from being passed from hen to chick.

Over the last year, we have discovered that the microbiomes of day-old chicks are very different in every hatchery. There is a lot of diversity, and res earch is underway to discover how that affects production. Similar research will be conducted on piglets and dairy cattle, too.

For more information,
Visit Arm & Hammer at: https://ahfoodchain.com