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Animal health: Multiple mycotoxins a real threat to UK dairy cattle

Ever-present in our environment and a potential threat to the health and productivity of even the best-run dairy herds, mycotoxins produced by moulds in feed ingredients should now be on every herd manager’s radar.
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According to Nick Adams, leader of Alltech’s global mycotoxin management team, these moulds are likely to be responsible for numerous undiagnosed health issues in UK dairy cattle, even when growing or harvesting conditions are reasonable.


In extreme cases they can cause abortion storms, severe scouring and sudden milk drop, but for most, the result of mycotoxin presence is more likely to be seen as a subtle problem.


The symptoms can be many and varied, but the outcome in all cases will be reduced performance and lost profits.


Mr Adams says: “Results from Alltech’s harvest surveys in the UK and across Europe over the last three years of both forages and other common winter ration ingredients show cows are fed diets containing multiple mycotoxins.


“On average, these surveys have found 6.7 different mycotoxins in every sample tested.


“However, their impact is often difficult to pinpoint, manifesting as reduced feed intake and rumen efficiency, for example, rather than the acute responses one often notices when animals consume high levels of mycotoxins.”


Mr Adams says there is still a lack of awareness among UK farmers of the presence and impact of multiple mycotoxins on animal health and farm profitability.


“We now understand the multiple mycotoxin threat is very real in the UK, and we are seeing more and more cases every year.


“The feeding of higher dry matter forages is certainly a factor, as is the use of alternative bulky feeds, which tend to be stored on-farm.


“Mycotoxins are products of mould metabolism, so anywhere where moulds can grow is a potential source of the problem.


“However, it is a mistake to assume an absence of visible moulds means no mycotoxins, as the toxins are resilient and can remain a threat long after the mould has gone.”


Results from Alltech’s 37+ Programme, which has the ability to test for more than 37 different mycotoxins in feed ingredients, suggest the most prevalent mycotoxins are Type B trichothecenes, fusaric acid, fumonisins and penicillium.


“But at an individual herd level, what is important is the mix of mycotoxins present in the feed stocks to be fed on any given farm. Once you have a clear picture of the threat, you can take the most appropriate action.


“It is the simultaneous presence of different mycotoxins which increases potential toxicity to the animal,” says Mr Adams.


“In order to help farmers more accurately predict the effect of mycotoxins on their cows, we are now able to give them a risk equivalent quantity (REQ), following their multiple mycotoxin threat assessment.


“This number represents the overall threat to cow health and performance, based on the cumulative effect of the groups of mycotoxins present.


“Cows ingest their feed as a combination of multiple ingredients, so it is important we assess the risks associated with the feed as a whole, rather than simply looking at individual toxins.”


Moulds responsible for mycotoxins can originate on feedstuffs pre-harvest or post harvest (in storage) and there are many sets of conditions which can promote their growth. These will include plant stress, harvesting difficulties, and poor storage conditions.


Many of these factors will apply this year to grass and maize silages, as well as cereal-based feedstuffs.


“When it comes to managing the ubiquitous mycotoxin challenge in farm feed stocks, appropriate risk assessment is the best way forward, along with awareness and extra vigilance at all times,” says Mr Adams.


“It is really a three-stage risk assessment process and starts with understanding through analysis.


“Armed with the knowledge of what your mycotoxin challenge looks like, your feed management process is examined via an Alltech MIKO audit, which is based on HACCP principles.


It is important to understand further mycotoxin contamination can occur at critical points in the process, from feed harvest/delivery right

through to storage. These critical control points act as triggers for action, so when challenges are discovered during the audit, action can

be implemented rapidly to better manage an existing mycotoxin challenge and reduce the chance of further contamination.


The third stage is the appropriate use of a proven broad-spectrum adsorbent to negate the damaging effects of mycotoxins on the health and performance of animals.”


With research suggesting the insidious multiple mycotoxin threat has the potential to steal as much as 2.3 litres per cow per day, and even increase somatic cell count (SCC) by 78.5 per cent, it is worth assessing the situation in your feed stocks before winter sets in.


Mycotoxin risk assessment

  1. Establish multiple mycotoxin threat
  2. Audit of feed management process
  3. Appropriate use of a proven broad-spectrum mycotoxin adsorbent
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