Holistic strategy can minimize mycotoxin risk

Risk can increase during feed storage, so a validated testing program will be critical to identify and monitor mycotoxins

Farmers can reduce risks to their livestock caused by mycotoxins by following a complete management strategy, said a representative from Alltech, the livestock feed and production company.

“(Look) from your field to your storage and feeding out to that animal testing so you know what’s there. Monitor those animals so you can help understand the risk,” said Alexandra Weaver, a member of the Alltech mycotoxin management team.

“Thinking about this as a whole mycotoxin management program, you want to think about what is your risk and how you can be proactive to that situation.”

Mycotoxins have been shown to reduce feed intake, lower immune response, damage gut integrity and cause poor fertility — issues that can be a major cost to producers.

At Alltech, Weaver is involved in developing programs for tracking mycotoxin data, designing technologies to assess the physical and financial impact of the mycotoxins on animals and providing the livestock industry with information on global mycotoxin risk profiles.

Focused on testing feedstocks in grains (barley, wheat, corn) and silages (corn, small grain), she provided a mycotoxin snapshot of the 2020 harvest analysis across Western Canada as part of a December Alltech webinar series.

Of the 54 mycotoxins tested, the scientists studied deoxynivalenol (DON), zearalenone (ZEA), trichothecene (T2/HT2), ochratoxin (OCH) and ergot alkaloids.

Using a rapid test kit, analysis was completed for 176 average grain samples and 49 average forage samples collected in Western Canada.

Looking at specifically barley and wheat, a minimum of DON was present in all of the analyzed samples. However, there were maximum levels in Manitoba, which Weaver said could adversely affect swine and calves.

T2/HT2 had variable levels throughout the provinces tested, but higher levels and risk assessments were detected in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which she said would impact most animal species.

Corn had higher levels of DON overall than barley and wheat, specifically in Alberta and Manitoba. T2 and HT2 were also relatively high throughout, but increased moving east in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Looking at silage results, corn had generally a lower to moderate risk, but there were some higher levels detected for DON, ZEA and T2/HT2.

She said the risk tended to increase moving eastward from British Columbia to Manitoba.

With small grain silage, Alberta had a good presence of DON, ZEA and ergot, while Manitoba generally showed higher levels of DON.

“I want to point out that with these silages in particular, we are looking at the field type toxins. So storage toxins definitely can play a role over time in forage quality,” she said.

Storage impacts quality over time with several factors to consider:

  • silage quality — packing and fermentation
  • storage quality — covering, face management and bin quality
  • temperature fluctuations
  • cleaning programs

“Storage definitely plays a key role, maybe more so on the silages, but definitely grains are very influenced by storage quality as well. It is a very important definitely in the long-term maintenance of your grains, your silages, your finished ration,” she said.

The economic impact of mycotoxins on the animals and on the farm can be substantial over time.

“When animals are consuming mycotoxins they can have lower productivity, whether that means increased diseases, reduced growth rates, reduced meat or milk output, or reduced egg production or offspring production.

“And if these things happen, we can have lower costs that we’re gaining back as well as higher costs on things like vaccinations or health treatments, or even higher feed costs perhaps because these animals are less efficient,” she said.

Looking forward, Weaver said having a validated testing program will be critical to identify and monitor mycotoxins.

Producers need to remember that risk can increase during storage and that other feed stuffs can also add risk.

“If we think about byproducts like DDGS (dried distillers grains with solubles) or screenings, those can have quite high risks of mycotoxins. And so those could be adding risk to your ration,” she said.

“Forage management is important over time. I think one of the very big things here is watching the animals, see what they’re telling you, see if they’re having problems when we begin feeding these new crop materials,” she said.

“If you see the symptoms, that means the animal has already consumed the mycotoxin. We want to catch that before the animals are consuming so that’s why we try to test and we try to manage mycotoxins prior to getting to the animal.”

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