Troubleshooting dairy herds for mycotoxicosis

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When troubleshooting herds that may have been exposed to the influence of mycotoxins, the most important thing for the investigator (veterinarian, nutritionist, dairyman, consultant, allied industry individual) to keep in mind is to not jump to conclusions and assume mycotoxins are the entire problem on the dairy. They may, however, be part of the problem, and we need to begin the investigative process.

Most mycotoxin problems go undiagnosed due to lack of perseverance on the part of the investigator, or a lack of records and analysis that may be used for diagnostic purposes.  The management team at the dairy must be willing to cooperate with each other. One of the most important factors is good record keeping at the dairy. Documentation of production, breeding, and treatment records are extremely valuable in this situation. Feed and ingredient analysis records are of the utmost importance in determination of the cause and source of a case of mycotoxicosis.

Below is a checklist of troubleshooting questions to ask a dairy producer whose herd may have been affected by mycotoxins:

  • Are your veterinarian and nutritionist currently involved in trying to determine the problems?
  • What are the visual symptoms of the animals?
  • What production and reproduction parameters are below normal expectations?
  • Have any animals died? If so, did the attending veterinarian perform necropsies and send tissue samples to the diagnostic laboratory for evaluation?
  • Have all feed ingredients been tested for any of the following: mold count, yeast count, mold identification and toxin screening?
  • Has the source of water on the dairy been tested for bacteria counts and mineral content?
  • Has the nutritionist reviewed the ration on paper, and physical ration in the bunk for nutrient specification accuracy?
  • Is the vaccination program complete and under direct supervision by the attending veterinarian?
  • Has any diagnostic work been performed by a veterinarian? If so, what was it?
  • How long has the problem(s) been affecting the herd?
  • Did the symptoms have an acute onset? Is this a chronic situation?

It is not uncommon to take immediate measures at the dairy before the diagnostic process is completed. In many cases, the need for immediate results is necessary in an effort to help the dairy try to resume normal production, reproduction and health status of the affected herd. In some instances, the actions taken at this point are the determining factor in diagnosing whether or not mycotoxins were a problem in the first place.

Some of the most common practices employed are to eliminate the suspected source of the mycotoxin (i.e., silage, haylage, whole cottonseed, almond hulls, etc.) to include a mold inhibition product (i.e., use of fungicides or mold inhibitors on the total mixed ration or corn silage), or to use a mycotoxin-sequestering agent in the ration.


Randy Asher presented this information in his presentation “Solving the Mycotoxin Menace at the Farm Level” at Alltech’s North America Mycotoxin Summit, April 4-5.



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