Toxins in the feed — Identifying and managing mycotoxins

Beyond cereal crops, ergot can also be found in forage grasses like orchard grass, brome grass, bluegrass and others.

We often focus our efforts on what to add to a total mixed ration in order to offer our animals the highest plane of nutrition necessary for their life stage. But, what about the substances that could create serious health concerns, or even death?

“Moulds are a fungal growth, and the mycotoxins are actually a secondary toxic metabolite that happens when moulds get stressed — so specific, and unpredictable conditions,” says Amanda Van De Kerckhove, ruminant nutritionist with Co-op Feeds.

Even trickier, she adds, the presence of moulds doesn’t always indicate the presence of mycotoxins. Likewise, just because a feed appears to be free of moulds, doesn’t mean it’s free from mycotoxins.

In western Canada, some of the most common mycotoxins include ergot alkaloids and those associated with the fungus Fusarium graminearum, including diacetoxyscirpenol (DAS,) deoxynivalenol (DON or vomitoxin), T-2 toxin and HT-2 toxin.

“Fortunately, it’s quite rare to get to those full-blown, clinically-ill animals,” says Van De Kerckhove. “Definitely, with the fusarium mycotoxins, what we tend to see is animals off feed, gastrointestinal upset…, and then you do have an immune suppression…”

 Amanda Van De Kerckhove in conversation with RealAgriculture’s Debra Murphy, at the inaugural BeefTech event in Edmonton, AB.

While removing the source of contamination for fusarium-affected animals will alleviate their symptoms, it’s not as easy with ergot, which causes lameness (most often first in the hind legs), then sloughing off of ears, tails and hoofs.

In order to help equip animals with mycotoxins, Van De Kerckhove advises a good plane of nutrition, and keeping animals stress-free and healthy. It’s important, she says, to keep up with parasite control and vaccinations, and promote good gut health with probiotics, prebiotics and essential fatty acids.

“If you’ve got your feed tested and you are dealing with a problem, definitely seek the advice of a professional…”


Debra Murphy

Debra Murphy is a Field Editor based out of central Alberta, where she never misses a moment to capture with her camera the real beauty of agriculture. Follow her on Twitter @RealAg_Debra


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