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Strategies to manage mycotoxin risk in dairy cows

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Reducing the risk of problems with mycotoxins in dairy cows requires an integrated approach

Mycotoxins in dairy feed can cause various problems in dairy cattle. Next to that, aflatoxin M1 in milk can be carcinogenic for humans. Problems with mycotoxin toxicity in dairy cows require an integrated approach. Dr. Swamy Haladi, PhD, was one of the two speakers during a webinar entitled: “The impact of mycotoxins on health and productivity of dairy cows”.

The incidence of problems with mycotoxins in dairy cattle is increasing

Sources of mycotoxins in dairy cattle

Sources of mycotoxins can be difficult to identify. Moulds can grow in feed stuff while it is still on the field, silages can be contaminated during harvesting with soil containing moulds and it is even possible that ergotoxins are produced by moulds living inside plants, in which case cattle can already be challenged with mycotoxin while grazing. The incidence of emerging mycotoxins, which are neither routinely analyzed, nor legislatively regulated is rapidly increasing

The impact of masked mycotoxins on the dairy industry

Masked mycotoxins of cattle are conjugates of DON, ZEA, OTA that are masked to commonly used detection methods. These masked mycotoxins of dairy cattle are still biologically active and bioavailable in the digestive tract of dairy cows.

The importance of silage management to reduce the risk of contamination with mycotoxins

Dr. Haladi emphasized that using material that is to dry to produce silage, poor covering and packing, or poor face management of silages after opening can have a direct effect on growth of mold. This is through aeration, in combination with an indirect effect via growth of yeast leading to an increase in pH.

Diagnosing mycotoxin challenges in dairy cows

Signs of mycotoxin problems in dairy cows can vary, but undigested feed in the faeces, poor reproduction and health and a low milk production are all indicative of a possible mycotoxin problem in dairy cows.

Rapid tests for mycotoxin analysis are available to test:

  • Raw materials with less than 15% moisture
  • Dairy concentrate and compound feed
  • Aflatoxin M1 in milk

Mold and yeast counts can be used to analyse silage quality. HPLC-LC-MS/MS analysis for forages and TMR are available. These methods to analyse mycotoxins in dairy feed are not always practical to organize. A service for key mycotoxins is available at Masterlabs, the Trouw Nutriton laboratory in Boxmeer, the Netherlands.

Mycotoxin management in modern dairy herds

The mycotoxin management programme

According to Dr. Haladi, the importance of an integrated approach to mycotoxin management in dairy cows can’t be over-estimated. A mycotoxin risk management programme in dairy cattle should include:

  • Ploughing, as molds can grow in the parts of the plants that are not harvested
  • Crop rotation
  • Crop management
  • Harvest management
  • Grain treatment in case grains are being fed
  • Feed mill hygiene in case compound feed is part of the ration
  • Optimal feed transportation
  • Silage management and the use of silage inoculants when the silage is being produced
  • Mycotoxin mitigation with mycotoxin binders for dairy cows
  • TMR management including the use of additives for dairy cows at feeding

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.

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You can access all of our documentation about Selko protocols, sustainable dairy farming and latest research insights about Dairy Cow health & fertility.

Strategies to manage mycotoxin risk in dairy cows by Dr. Swamy Haladi, PhD

Problems with mycotoxins in dairy cattle are not easy to identify. It requires testing for mycotoxins in combination with silage analysis for molds. Mycotoxin mitigation products should bind mycotoxins and improve gut health, immunity and anti-oxidant status of dairy cows.

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