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Managing Mycotoxins in Your Livestock and Poultry Operation

3 minute read

Mycotoxins are known to have negative health and production effects on livestock and poultry animals. These impacts can range from acute to chronic diseases, as well as altered growth patterns, reduced production and reproductive efficiency, and increased susceptibility to other infectious diseases.

The annual cost of mycotoxin mitigation has been estimated at $466 million USD, while production losses tied to mycotoxins approach $6 million USD annually (CAST, 2003).

Hidden Aspects of Mycotoxins

While mycotoxins can have a negative impact on feed intake, rate of gain, milk production and reproduction, other factors could also be impacting these production factors. Just because the feed may have mold, that doesn’t mean it’s contaminated with mycotoxins. On the other hand, if you don’t see mold in your feed that doesn’t mean mycotoxins are not present.

The most notorious feed ingredients for mycotoxin contamination are whole cottonseed, grain silage, corn and corn byproducts like distillers’ grain. What’s interesting about distiller byproducts is that the process that extracts the starch from the corn kernel does not remove the mycotoxins. This is because the mycotoxins are found on the kernel. In this situation, removal of 60 to 70 percent of the starch will concentrate the level of mycotoxins in the distillers’ grains. The rule of thumb is that the mycotoxin content in distillers’ grains will be concentrated three-times more than the corn when the starch is extracted. This makes testing feed ingredients and taking steps to manage mycotoxins even more important.

It’s recommended that nutritionists and producers test all new crop feedstuffs as they are harvested and arrive at the farm. In addition, many of the mycotoxin testing facilities are proactive in sharing insights into what they are seeing in terms of mycotoxin contamination during the harvest season.

Mycotoxins in Feed Increase Mineral Requirement of Animals

Some mycotoxins, such as aflatoxins (AF), deoxynivalenol (DON) and fumonisins (FUM) cause damage to intestinal epithelial tissue. This damage may reduce the absorption of nutrients including essential minerals which are required in increasing quantities during a mycotoxin challenge. Supplementation with Zn, Mn, Cu and Se is required to repair damage to cell membranes and to counteract the oxidative stress caused by mycotoxins. Overall, mycotoxins in feed increase the mineral requirement of animals, particularly those anti-oxidative minerals such as Zn, Mn and Se.

Mycotoxin Feed Management Tips

If mycotoxins are detected in your feed ingredients, there are three potential approaches you can take:

Option #1 — Eliminate the contaminated feedstuff. This is the “ideal” option. The problem is producers and nutritionists are often not in a situation where eliminating the feedstuff is an option and, very often, the producers and nutritionists cannot find clean feedstuff without any mycotoxin contamination.

Option #2 — Reduce the feeding rate of the contaminated feedstuff. This option allows the producer and nutritionist to blend the contaminated feed with non-contaminated feed to reduce the mycotoxin contamination to an acceptable level. Even at a very low amount, however, mycotoxins will have a negative impact on immunity and health of an animal, but this point is often overlooked.

Option #3 — Use a research-proven mycotoxin sequestering agent to decontaminate the feed. Producers and nutritionists can blend a mycotoxin sequestering agent into the contaminated feed. The mycotoxin sequestering agent will bind the mycotoxin to the agent, making it inert and prevent it from being absorbed by the animal.  However, producers and nutritionists may still need to implement Option 2 as part of Option 3 for improved response.

Controlling Mycotoxins

The best way to control mycotoxins is to prevent them from contaminating the forage at the point of production, especially forages. In some circumstances, drought or high levels of precipitation that cause fungal diseases cannot be avoided. However, management of the growing crop can help to reduce the levels of mycotoxins. Important considerations are management of the soil, crop rotations, variety selection, fungicide application and reducing soil contamination during storage. Management of forage piles also play a role. Here, consider adequate compaction and hygiene during ensilage and sealing of the silage pile.

Sequestering Agents Impact Mineral Utilization

While mycotoxin sequestering agents are effective in controlling the mycotoxins, some classes of mycotoxin sequestering agents may also bind trace minerals, rendering them unavailable for absorption and metabolism.

One way to overcome this potential and unintended consequence is to feed performance trace minerals. Zinpro Performance Minerals® feature a trace mineral bound to an essential amino acid in a unique manner, which maximizes stability and absorption. This trace-mineral-to-amino-acid bond will not be impacted by a mycotoxin sequestering agent, allowing the trace minerals to be better absorbed and metabolized by the animal.

To learn more about mycotoxins and mycotoxin sequestering agents, download the Effects of Mycotoxins and Mycotoxin Sequestering Agents on Mineral Nutrition research paper written by Zinpro.