5 Ways to Manage Mycotoxins

The adage that “knowledge is power” is especially true when it comes to understanding mold and mycotoxins. During a recent Phibro Animal Health webinar, Lon Whitlow, professor emeritus at North Carolina State University, discussed how harvest, storage and handling practices can set the stage for mold and mycotoxin growth, which can be potentially dangerous for livestock.

“Under certain conditions, mold can form and proliferate in the fields, in storage or in the feed bunks — and where there’s mold, there are often mycotoxins,” Whitlow explained. “Given this prevalence, coupled with the immense impact mycotoxin contamination can have on an animal’s immune and reproductive systems, feed intake and production, it’s imperative that producers know the causes of mycotoxins to better recognize and treat the symptoms.”

Whitlow offers five reminders to help livestock producers better prevent, recognize and manage mycotoxin contamination. 

1.    Mycotoxins are routine in the fields and are byproducts of stressed molds. 
Insects, disease, low soil fertility and excess water can set the stage for mold growth, which in turn may produce mycotoxins. Once harvested, crops are subject to molds in storage, so Whitlow advised farmers to aerate dry feeds and properly pack and cover silage. Also, consider mold inhibitors or microbial fermentation aids to keep feed mold-free. Cold, wet conditions and winter damage can set the stage for molds and mycotoxins, which require water and just a small amount of oxygen. 
 
2.    Where you find evidence of one mycotoxin, there are likely more. 
There are thousands of known mold species, Whitlow said, and they may replicate quickly under certain environmental conditions. Fortunately, approximately two-thirds of molds are non-toxigenic or don’t produce mycotoxins, but the remaining one-third may produce more than 500 mycotoxins.
 
3.    Mycotoxicosis can have widespread effects on animal health. 
Mycotoxins may impact almost every aspect of immunity, reducing an animal’s ability to process antigens and build antibodies to those antigens. This reduces the maturation of disease-fighting immune cells and also reduces the production of cytokines, which limits the communication of immune cells, he said. Mycotoxins can also have intestinal effects, creating a loss of barrier function, reducing enzymes, increasing intestinal pathogens and causing diarrhea, because animals are unable to maintain water balance.
 
4.    Symptoms of mycotoxin toxicity can be difficult to diagnoses. 
Two of the more common mycotoxins are fumonisins and deoxynivalenol (DON). Fumonisins are known to disrupt metabolism and cause nerve degeneration, while DON may cause intestinal irritation, reduction in weight gain, changes in feed intake or lowered immunity. Aflatoxins tend to target the liver, while zearalenone often reduces conception and reproductive performance. One of the least prevalent but potentially most dangerous of all, T-2 toxins, produced by Fusarium molds, can cause cellular injury to multiple organs, resulting in increased disease incidence and even death. 
 
5.    Producers can reduce the threat of mycotoxin toxicity. 
If contaminated feeds are discovered, Whitlow encouraged producers to sample and test their feeds to help identify what mycotoxins are present and to dilute or remove the contaminated feed if possible. Consider feeding immune enhancers, antioxidants, fibers, buffers or microbials to help strengthen immune systems and GI tracts and include binding agents in feeds to help protect animals from the harmful effects of mycotoxins.  
 
“While prevention in the field and in storage is important, it’s also incumbent upon livestock producers to be vigilant in looking for signs of illness that might be a result of mycotoxin contamination and to act accordingly,” Whitlow said. “The best treatment requires multiple approaches, from buffers to binders.”


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