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What Is a Mycotoxin and How Can It Harm My Animals?

Invisible to the naked eye and responsible for considerable economic losses, mycotoxins merit attention and proper mitigation in order to protect your animals and your operation’s profitability.

Mycotoxins are toxic products of mold and fungi, and can be found on standing crops and agricultural commodities worldwide. Although ingesting contaminated feed can have serious effects on your livestock, they can be very difficult to detect – invisible, tasteless, and normal manufacturing processes are not able to destroy them.

What Is a Mycotoxin and How Can It Harm My Animals...

Michele Muccio (Product Manager - Competence Center Mycotoxins, BIOMIN) provides the definition of a mycotoxin and how mycotoxins can harm farm animals.

Effects in animals

Though the symptoms might not be overtly obvious in farm animals, perhaps as difficult to notice as low conception rates or decreased production, the potential economic consequences are high. Some of the more serious effects of toxicity include:

  • Immune suppression
  • Fertility reduction
  • Decreased nutrient utilization
  • Loss of appetite
  • Performance losses

Subtle symptoms

As the symptoms are numerous and can vary, many farmers pin the cause as being due to something else. Drops in productivity are too often attributed to other factors, perhaps even a herd or flock being just “not quite right”. In cases of vague but consistently substandard performance, mycotoxins may well be the root cause – preventable but overlooked, and with a potential to be devastating.

These toxins occur naturally as by-products of specific fungus types based on location, but stress factors also play a part. Droughts, poor nutrition, high crop density, weed competition, global trading, insect or mechanical damage can weaken the plant’s natural defences and cultivate mycotoxins and exacerbate their spread across the crop.

Despite how difficult detecting mycotoxins can be, their presence in feed is hugely underestimated by many in the agricultural community. In a recent BIOMIN survey of 16,000 feedstuff samples, 94% contained 10 or more mycotoxins and metabolites. A staggering 6 out of 10 samples had at least one mycotoxin above acceptable threshold levels.

Relevance to antibiotic-free feeding

The trend towards antibiotic reduction has brought complications wrought by mycotoxin contamination to the fore for many producers. When antibiotics are removed from production, mycotoxins pose a greater challenge for farmers. Mycotoxin risk management is clearly an important part of antibiotic-free feeding. We know that mycotoxins are oftentimes a cofactor and even a precursor in the development of pre-disposing factors to many bacterial and viral diseases, that they interfere with vaccine efficacy resulting in channeling and they sap energy that could otherwise be used for performance.

While it is possible to detect the presence of mycotoxins in feed, analysis can show negative results despite toxins being present. Mycotoxins usually occur in hot spots, in small pockets that a sample could miss entirely, and then spread afterwards. Masked mycotoxins are also a risk – certain toxins can bind to molecules, and not show up in analysis due to biochemical moderation. To ensure the greatest economic efficiency, prevention works as the best policy.

Although detectable, mycotoxins can and do slip through – the safest option is to treat the feed with an additive that deactivates mycotoxins. Mycofix® offers peace of mind by state of the art absorption and biotransformation of a broad range of mycotoxins into environmentally-safe metabolites, all tested and authorized by the EU. Mycofix® is the most complete solution on the market to quickly safeguard your livestock without hassle or risk. With care and preparation, a small adjustment can prevent significant problems for you and your animals.