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More harm than good? Don't tolerate winter feed contamination any longer

Could the conserved feeds you plan to form the basis of winter rations in the coming months be doing more harm than good? Possibly so, according to a recent study.

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The HY-SIL project is collaborate research between Bristol Vet School, the University of Nottingham, Duchy College, Micron Bio-Systems, Mole Valley Farmers and AB Vista.


Between March and April this year, 50 farms in the South West were visited with samples of rations collected and farm questionnaires undertaken. The study aimed to assess the level of mycotoxin and common microbial pathogen contamination in silages and rations, as well as understanding husbandry around conserving feed, clamp management and ration formulation.


Micron’s Mark Cox says: “Worryingly, the project found 72 per cent of the total mixed rations (TMRs) tested were contaminated with enterobacteria such as e.coli, potentially a significant threat to stock performance and health.


“Similarly, 70 per cent of TMRs tested and a significant number of maize silage samples had worryingly high levels of mycotoxins which are capable of impacting on many areas of cattle health.”


Mycotoxins occur naturally in a variety of moulds which grow on food crops. The amount and type varies according to the environment. Temperature and humidity have an affect as do insects, weeds and the way the crop is harvested and clamped.


Herd health and performance concerns

  • Low milk production with poor quality
  • Poor body condition score
  • Decreased dry matter intake
  • Depressed reproductive performance
  • Abortion
  • Swollen hocks
  • Non-healing foot lesions
  • Udder inflammation
  • Mucus tags

“Severe health problems from mycotoxin contaminated feed is rare in cattle. However it can contribute to common issues such as lower feed consumption, feed conversion, increased reproductive problems, lower health status and falling production. Conditions such as sub-acute rumen acidosis can also impair the cow’s own natural mycotoxin defense system,” Mr Cox adds.


“High levels of bacterial contamination, whether that is e.coli, listeria also presents a challenge for cattle and could go on to have a serious impact on herd health and individual cow performance,” he adds.


Samples tested in the study showed 71.9 per cent of the TMR samples had Enterobacteria contamination, while listeria was present in just under 10 per cent of all silage sample types analysed. 


“The study also questioned farms about health and performance concerns they were seeing in their herds,” says Mr Cox. “This was so, with full analysis, we can begin to link feed contamination with specific negative results being seen in a herd.”


“Data was also collected around somatic cell counts and mastitis history in order to build up a more complete picture on the role of conserved feed management and ration formulation,” says Mr Cox.


“There are steps farmers can take to minimise the risk of contamination, including simple things like washing out the feeder wagon.


“The starting point for anyone wanting to tackle this problem head on is to know what you are feeding. Gone are the days of simple nutritional analysis; you have to test for mycotoxins and bacteria at the feed face. Do not wait until you have a drop in production – these results show how vital it is to test your forage and TMR before it turns into a potentially expensive problem.”

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