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Mycotoxin exposure of dairy cows: animal health, welfare, and food safety

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Molds and mycotoxins represent a true one-health issue

Problems with mycotoxins in dairy feed can have an impact on both human and animal health. Next to that, mycotoxins can cause problems with feed safety in dairy cows as well as food safety and food security problems in humans. For this reason, problems with mycotoxin toxicity are a true one-health issue. Professor Dr. Fink Gremmels was one of the two speakers during a webinar entitled: “The impact of mycotoxins on health and productivity of dairy cows”.

The impact of AFOZET mycotoxins in ruminants

During the first part of her presentation, Professor Fink Gremmels focused on the so-called AFOZET mycotoxins, the most well known toxins that are, in most countries, subject to regulations. These AFOZET mycotoxins are aflatoxins, fumonsins, ochratoxins, zearalenone, ergotoxins and trichothecenes (DON and T-2 toxin). Aflatoxins are of concern because aflatoxin M1 can be excreted into milk and highly productive dairy cows often have a gene that increases the level of excretion[1]. Aflatoxin M1 is a potential carcinogen particularly when exposure occurs in an early phase of life.

Storage mycotoxins and endophytes that can cause health problems in dairy cattle

Next to that, at least 80 fungal species have been identified in silage or haylage that can produce mycotoxins, the so-called storage molds (e.g. Penicillium, Byssochlamus, Monascus, Aspergillus). These mycotoxins can cause serious health issues in dairy cows. Lately, there has been a lot of interest in the occurrence of Endophytes, moulds that grow inside plants and can cause problems in gazing dairy cows.

The rumen flora of dairy cows can increase natural resilience to mycotoxins

Professor Fink Gremmels concluded that if a TMR consists of a mixture of concentrates and various forms of roughages, exposure of dairy cattle to multiple mycotoxins is a serious risk. The rumen microbiota of dairy cows is the first major contact site for feed-borne mycotoxins, and the rumen micro-organisms can successfully degrade or inactivate many mycotoxins (OTA, DON), conveying a natural resilience to mycotoxins. But toxin degradation in the rumen does not modify all mycotoxins and detoxification capacity depends on an intact balanced rumen microbiome. The microbiome of the dairy rumen can be disturbed by rumen acidosis and/or silage molds with antimicrobial properties.

Clinical signs of mycotoxicosis in dairy cows

Mycotoxins in dairy cattle can cause rumen acidosis, metabolic disturbances, and an inflammatory syndrome. Clinical signs of mycotoxicosis in dairy cattle are decreased milk yield, increased SCC, increased prevalence of laminitis and reduced fertility. Contamination of silage with typical silage molds favors secondary contamination to bacterial pathogens (Clostridia, Listeria) that contribute to clinical disease and poor milk hygiene of dairy cows.

Mycotoxin management strategies in dairy cattle

Global climate changes and plant stress favour fungal invasion of crops. Mycotoxin management of dairy cows requires an integrated approach, including crop management at the pre-harvest stage, harvest conditions, preservation and hygiene during storage, as well as mitigation strategies with adsorbents in animal diets.

Questions and answers from the webinar

Question Answer
To what extend can negative effects of mycotoxins on rumen microbes be mitigated by partial binding of these mycotoxins? Will they be sufficiently bound on rumen level? This question can not completely answered, as the rumen microbiome if highly variable in different herds. From model experiments the rumen microorganisms if can be estimated that a 75% reduction can be achieved
Is there a link between the "soil health and life" and mycotoxin? How could we work on it if the answer is yes? Yes there is an imortant, but indirect link. Poor soil quality with low microbial activity ("life") reduce the resisliance of plants to fungi. This has been convincingly demonstrated for bana plants and F. oxysporum. Plant pathologists from all over the world work on this isssue.
How does contamination of TMR result in rumen acidosis? The answer is rather simple: many mycotoxins that oroginate for example from Penicillium species, have strrong antimicrobial activity (remember that we use Penicillin as a drug!). Continous dietary exposure to these mycotoxins provokes a significant shift in the rumen microbiota - and this shift is comparable that that of rumen acidosis (with comparable symptoms).
Is taking samples of rumen fluid and looking for the amount of protozoa under a microspcope an indicator for mycotoxins having influence on farm? Yes, counting protozoa is a good indicator for rumen dysbacteriosis in individual animals at farm level.
Do we need live yeasts in the TMR to stabilize the rumen microbes? Various investigations have convincingly demonstrated that yeasts (live yeast cells or preprations of yeast cell walls) have a beneficial effect on rumen microbiota.
Can using the whole yeast be as effective as using beta-glucans, if you take the beta-glucan levels into account? No, glucan portion has to be exposed to have good binding.
What is a process of submitting samples for Mycomaster testing? You can contact a local country TN representative on this via our contact form
Which mycotoxin is the most toxic for the rumen? This is difficult question. Professor Fink-Gremmels believes that in Northern Europe, Patulin is the most toxic mycotoxin for the rumen.
Due to the more rigorous regulatory picture in Europe would you say that European cattle are less exposed to mycotoxins than cattle in the rest of the world? Exposure of cattle depends predominantly on crop management and farming practice. Europe has in many parts a good climate for crops used in the TMR - this is much more important that EU legislation.
What do you think about application of fungicides on corn silage by example? Is it a good strategy to reduce mold/mycotoxins in forages? Fungicides for plant protection are not useful in silage. Propionic acid and mixtures thereof with other organic acids are very effective in reducing mould growth (and toxin production) in ensiled material.
How much time after starting to use a product like Selko TOXO can we expect improvement of health and production of dairy cows? After a minimum of 4 weeks of treatment with Selko Toxo
What are the most common synergies between mycotoxins in dairy cows ? Two different aspects are of importance: at the level of the rumen, all mycotoxins with antimicrobial activity are synergistic. Next to that, an indirect synergism between these antimicrobial mycotoxins with other toxins (like DON) exists, as disturbed microbiota will be less effective in degrading and inactivating these other toxins.
What are the costs of testing for a mycotoxin using MycoMaster vs HPLC? About 7-10 Euro per toxin, aflatoxin being a bit more expensive. The advantage of using the Mycomaster is that you have a quick answer.
Manure sampling seems to be a good idea, but for which mycotoxins should the manure sample be checked? Faecal samples can be analyzed for mould load, no for mycotoxins.This will give an indication of possible mycotoxin risk. Next step is still to analyze feed samples on mycotoxin profile. For this, sampling skills are very crucial.
How common is nowadays the switch of serine to tyrosine? Is it a big percentage of modern cows that are secreting higher portion of AFM1 in milk? The best dairy farms will be more influenced by mycotoxins, because their cows have a genetic make-up for high milk production. This makes their rumen function relatively more vulnerable to mycotoxins. If a cow is not pushed to reach her genetic potential, her rumen function may be ideal to degrade mycotoxins in theory. Compared to many years ago, there is general improvement in genetics across markets. For sure, the average vunerability or the transimission rate of AFM1 nowdays is expected to be higher than long ago.
Is the development and occurrence of emerging mycotoxins in line with global warming? Emerging mycotoxins are not always newcomers. Instead, their popping up is more related to the increased attention paid by researchers. But based on our experience on the major (BIG 6) mycotoxins, it is very likely that emerging mycotoxin occurence might also be strongly correlating to global climate change.
Is there any protocol for feeding cows to combat the aflatoxin load along with toxin binders? From our field expereince, once you suspect a high aflatoxin risk on your farm, start the commercial binder with a high dose. Meanwhile, take milk samples for AFM1 analysis to confirm the risk. Then when the situation gets improved, you may graudually reduce the binder dose to an optimal level.
What is the definition of haylage? Haylage tends to be cut earlier in the season and is left to wilt for a shorter period of time in the field before being baled and wrapped in several layers of plastic. The difference between haylage and hay is that, whilst the conservation of hay relies on the removal of moisture, the conservation of haylage relies on the exclusion of oxygen which prevents mould growth.
Why can ruminants degrate or detoxify OTA? Rumen microbiota has the capacity to degrade not only OTA but also other mycotoxins in theory. But this capacity might be compromized in reality due to the biological pressure from high milk production.
Are all bentonites binding to the same extend as TOXO? What are differences between sources? The binding capability differs between different bentonites for sure. Trouw Nutrition works with different established models to test various bentonite sources to show these differences. For aflatoxin binding, there could be less difference.
AFM1 excretion into dairy milk is concerning for newborns. But what are the effects of excretion of mycotoxins for newborn calves? The vertical transmission is indeed a concern. Newborn calves who don't have a developed rumen yet, can be consider as monogastrics. Mycotoxins may damage the gut barrier function and suppress the innate immunity of calves, all of which may lead to a suboptimal growth and performance.
Can certain mycotoxin abatement products reduce the availability of essential trace minerals in the cow? If so how can this be avoided? We did some work recently, but the binders we use are used at low levels compared to 15 years ago. It also depends on the processing of the binders, but if there is any binding, it is at very minimal.
Which mycotoxines cause the most synergistic and pathogenic effect in the rumen? Silage moulds are additive to each other, 1 plus 1 is 2. But in case of the "big 6" AFOZET mycotoxins, if one has antimicrobila effects, it immediately reduces degradation capacity for the others, so in that case, they enhance each others toxicity indirectly. DON can e.g. become a problem in case there are also silage mycotoxins
Do mycotoxins also cause dysbacteriosis in the hindgut? Some mycotoxins such as Roquefortin or particularly Patulin, can cause dysbacteriosis indeed and as a result, they cause rumen acidosis. Not always immediately, but of course, if a silage is contaminated, exposure lasts longer and at some point in time, results in acidosis. Patulin in particular could also reach the hindgut and cause hindgut acidosis.
Lots of mycotoxins originate from soil. What about non tilling or ploughing the soil after grain or corn harvest? If parts of the plant are left on the acre after harvesting, growth of molds can occur. Thus, ploughing is very important and should take place as soon as possible after harvesting.
What to do once you know cows are infected with Aspergillus fumigatus? There is not a lot that can be done to neutralise toxins once contamination has occurred, the only thing to try would be to give them more roughage, this sometimes helps, but sometimes not.
Does the Mycotoxin Analsis Report take the DM intake into account? Yes, we translate the HPLC results into DM basis.


  1. Min, L, Fink-Gremmels, J, Li, D, Tong, X, Tang, J, Nan, X, Yu, Z, Chen, W and G. Wang (2021). An overview of aflatoxin B1 biotransformation and aflatoxin M1 secretion in lactating dairy cows. Animal Nutrition 7: 42-48.

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