Mycotoxins are common, perhaps even more so than you might realize. Globally, as high as three in four ration ingredients are contaminated by one or more mycotoxin(s). In fact, multi-mycotoxin studies have reported from 30 percent to 100 percent of analyzed samples were contaminated with two or more mycotoxins.1
Mycotoxins are prevalent among 2016 crops, so if you haven’t encountered challenges in your herd yet, odds are that you probably will sometime in the future.
You can’t ignore mycotoxins once those feedstuffs are used up, either. Mycotoxins can form anywhere along the feed chain where molds may exist—in the field, at harvest, throughout storage, at some point in processing or even during feeding.
Therefore, mycotoxins always need to be on your radar regardless of growing year, location or how well you manage your dairy’s feeding program.
Why the Concern?
· Suppress immunity
· Reduce nutrient utilization and absorption
· Reduce feed intake
· Irritate tissues—especially in the gastrointestinal tract
In addition, mycotoxins have been associated with a number of factors that affect the endocrine system and reduce reproductive performance: irregular estrous cycles, embryonic mortalities, pregnant cows showing estrus and decreased conception rates.
Complicating the situation is that feed analyses, while valuable, do not find every mycotoxin species present. Nor is every species identified or its effects documented. More than 18,000 mycotoxins are currently known, but research has only been conducted on a handful of species since the 1960s.
As a result, not enough is understood about the long-term subclinical effects of mycotoxins on cow health and performance. Prolonged exposure, even at levels considered “safe”, may negatively affect performance and the effects may be cumulative. While a single, large dose of a mycotoxin can cause acute toxicity, it is more likely that the effects are chronic, caused by low-level consumption over time.2
Also, testing cannot account for lags that occur between feeding and sampling, meaning the contaminated feed may have been ingested long before results are known.
Lastly, obtaining representative feed samples is difficult because mold growth is inconsistent and mycotoxins are not uniformly distributed within a feedstuff.2
Dairies and nutritionists often cannot be certain exactly how mycotoxins impact a herd. It’s a matter of when they impact a herd. You can be confident that these toxins do play a role in animal health and performance; therefore it pays to be proactive.
Consider Ration Insurance
It’s time to approach mycotoxins in the same way dairies have successfully addressed subclinical milk fever and subclinical ketosis: Assume mycotoxins are present and take steps to proactively manage their negative effects.
Research shows that Refined Functional Carbohydrates (RFCs) can bind mycotoxins and prevent them from being absorbed through the gut and into the blood circulation. The toxins then pass harmlessly through the digestive system and are excreted without negatively affecting animal performance.
Immune suppression caused by mycotoxins can be reversed by beta 1,3/1,6 glucans and mannans present in RFCs, allowing the cow to further protect itself against pathogens. In addition, nutrient uptake is maintained, leading to better feed efficiency and animal performance.
This level of protection enables animals to devote energy to all functions instead of staving off infections or struggling to maintain nutrient uptake.
In essence, the RFCs act as an insurance policy and help manage unseen threats, protecting animals from the ill effects of mycotoxins that can occur at any time as conditions become favorable.
Immune Function and Gut Health
Researchers are also learning more about the ties between gut health and overall immune function, especially as it relates to mycotoxins. This is of key interest because immune suppression is one of the ways mycotoxins exert their effects.3
Intestinal cells are the first cells to be exposed to mycotoxins, and often at higher concentrations than other tissues. Maintenance of a healthy gastrointestinal tract is crucial to ensure nutrients are absorbed at an optimum rate and the tract can provide efficient protection against pathogens through its own immune system.4
The result affects the animal on two levels—locally (at the point of attack) and systemically if the release of inflammatory compounds reduces immunity in other parts of the body. That ripple effect begins when gut health is compromised and tissues are irritated. This often opens the door for opportunistic diseases that also reduce immune function, negatively impacting animal performance and productivity.
In the end, if animals are fighting off a health challenge—whether locally or systemically—it affects the energy available for other biological process. And that affects the long-term health of your dairy.
Instead, look to insure the health of your herd against the threat posed by mycotoxins—and support immunity with every bite of feed they eat.
1 Pinotti L, Ottoboni M, Giromini C, Dell’Orto V, Cheli F. Mycotoxin Contamination in the EU Feed Supply Chain: A Focus on Cereal Byproducts. Toxins 2016;8(2):45.
2 Mold and Mycotoxin Issues in Dairy Cattle: Effects, Prevention and Treatment. eXtension.org. Available at: http://articles.extension.org/pages/11768/mold-and-mycotoxin-issues-in-dairy-cattle. Accessed February 22, 2017.
3 Whitow LW, Hagler WM. Mycotoxins in Dairy Cattle: Occurrence, Toxicity, Prevention and Treatment. North Carolina State University. Available at: https://msu.edu/~mdr/mycotoxins.pdf. Accessed February 21, 2017.
4 Grenier B, Applegate TJ. Modulation of Intestinal Functions Following Mycotoxin Ingestion: Meta-Analysis of Published Experiments in Animals. Toxins 2013;5(2):396-430.