It seems each year dairy producers have mycotoxin pressures due to an abnormal growing season. Managing mycotoxins has become a normal practice rather than an exception.
Molds make mycotoxins, and mycotoxins can wreak havoc on the dairy herd. Most damage is done in the gut, where mycotoxins erode the mucous lining of the intestines, leading to leakage and subsequent infection. Cows that survive mycotoxin ingestion can exhibit subclinical symptoms, including higher disease incidence and milk production losses due to a suppressed immune system. It’s not uncommon for death to result in cows, calves and heifers.
When dealing with mycotoxins, there are two scenarios: managing the forages already in inventory and preparing for the crop about to be planted.
At this time of year forages are already harvested and stored away. If forages were stored properly, the anaerobic environment should help prevent mold growth. But it’s hard to get silage harvested and stored in a timely manner, especially when Mother Nature throws a wrench into the process.
According to Penn State Extension, cold, wet weather brings Fusarium toxins, while hot, humid weather brings aflatoxin formation. Given that wide range of weather patterns, most feeds and forages are at risk for carrying mycotoxins.
Tests can detect mycotoxin presence and levels, but Elliot Block, senior research fellow and director of technology with Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition, says don’t bother.
“Why measure something that you already know is there,” he says. “Which type of mycotoxins you have are irrelevant, and the type of mycotoxin present can vary day by day. Just assume their presence, mitigate and move on.”
The key is to mitigate the negative outcomes of mycotoxins. But with the presence of mycotoxins almost assured, how does one protect against the negative impact?
First, avoid feeding suspect forages. Don’t feed forages from the edge of the pile that didn’t ferment properly. Even if you don’t see mold, that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
“Watch out for hot spots on the face of bunkers,” says Renato Schmidt, forage technical specialist with Lallemand. “Some places on the forage surface can be 15 to 20 degrees warmer than other areas [and] are indicators that yeast is growing in those areas.”
Bind in the Cow
If you do happen to feed mycotoxins, Block says to use something to bind them or protect intestinal cells in the gut to mitigate the damage. A variety of products are designed to help prevent the risks associated with feeding mycotoxins. In reviewing several research studies, feeding a prebiotic or probiotic can help protect cells or bind mycotoxins and prevent them from damaging intestinal cells. Yeast-based products have shown to provide the greatest efficacy.
Avoiding feeding and binding mycotoxins when they get into the cow are ways to prevent the issues associated with mycotoxins. There are also ways to prevent mycotoxins before the forage finds the cow.
Mycotoxins can accumulate on plants in the field and during harvest, as well as when the silage is in storage or during feedout. Including an inoculant that helps reduce yeast levels can make the forage more resistant to heating and spoilage, improving feed stability.
With margins where they are on dairy operations, spending more money is not always a preferred choice. But spending a few dollars on products that can either reduce the likelihood of mycotoxins in feed or bind them if they get in the cow’s system seems worthwhile.
“Think about how much you have invested in your feed and your herd and the investment is logical,” Block says. “And it’s more than just preventing dead cows. Think of all of the subclinical cases that could be robbing your herd of profitability.”