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Review animal health challenge areas to assess feed hygieneReview animal health challenge areas to assess feed hygiene

Dairy and beef producers should first identify poor feed hygiene contributors in order to best combat their effects.

April 10, 2018

5 Min Read
Review animal health challenge areas to assess feed hygiene
Rock River Laboratory

As new and different farm management schemes are adopted and new ensiling technology continues to emerge to improve feed fermentation across all sectors of the agriculture industry, the opportunities for improved feed hygiene also grow, according to an announcement from Rock River Laboratory.

The term "feed hygiene" refers to the anti-nutritional factors that affect the purity and sanitation of feeds — from the field to fermentation and through feed-out, Rock River Laboratory said. Even while knowledge of anti-nutritional factors continues to grow in the sector — and management factors that contribute to poor feed hygiene are identified — an easy solution to combat all of these aspects remains to be found.

“We are recognizing bacterial loads in feedstuffs to a far greater extent than ever before, and they are appearing in more places than ever before,” said John Goeser, Rock River Laboratory animal nutrition, research and innovation director. “For instance, clostridia outbreaks are usually resigned to just haylage, but we can also find these bacteria in corn silage and even TMR (total mixed rations).”

Goeser explained that when anti-nutritional factors like fungi or pathogenic bacteria are present in feed, it's a sign of contamination.

“These anti-nutritional factors arise from feed contaminations and management practices like dirty buckets, tracking dirt into feed, spoiled feed polluting fresh feed in mixers and bird excrement, in addition to being field-borne,” Goeser said.

Four contributors

Regardless of how the contamination occurs, Goeser said animal health challenges likely spawn from multiple compounding factors; he focused on four major contributing categories.

“The first thing producers and their consultants should do is identify what they are dealing with,” Goeser said. “Review the four contributing areas; then, utilize analysis and on-farm assessment to determine what the animals are up against.”

1. Fungal contamination -- mold, yeast and mycotoxins. “Mold, yeast and mycotoxins are relatively well understood compared to other factors here, but there is always more to learn,” Goeser said. He recommends analyzing feedstuffs that are suspect for any of these anti-nutritional factors. “Depending on the analysis chosen, a producer can determine the level of the mold, yeast or mycotoxin in the feed and, in some cases, even identify the species.”

2. Environmental and management stress. “Temperature swings, overcrowding, poor cow comfort or anything else that stresses animals can contribute to a less-than-optimal immune system response,” Goeser said. He added that when an animal is stressed, cortisol is released, which, in turn, suppresses the immune system’s ability to fight pathogens, ultimately showing itself in the form of a sick animal.

3. Nutritional stress. “Nutritional stressors such as variations in feeding, inconsistent feed delivery or slug feeding, not pushing feed up frequently enough, delivering the wrong diet or poor starch digestibility can really wreak havoc, especially on ruminants,” Goeser said.

He explained that poor starch digestibility can result in an influx of grain into the hindgut, but if the grain isn’t digested in the rumen, "compensatory digestion in the small intestine takes place, which may provide an environment for pathogenic, opportunistic fungi or bacteria.”

4. Pathogenic or efficiency-robbing bacterial load. “A successful fermentation should wipe out many bad bacteria,” Goeser said. “For example, enterobacterial populations, which are generally undesirable, have been shown to be completely eliminated by a successful silage fermentation.” He added that keeping bacteria at bay or killing them off is part of the fermentation process. However, inadequate fermentation from oxygen infiltration via poor seals or plastic damage, aerobic feed spoilage or feed contamination at feed-out (e.g., mud or manure getting into the TMR) can result in the presence of bad bacterial loads.

“Each farm is a petri dish, and each farm is different,” Goeser said. “Producers should consider that which they can’t see; there is a lot more going on than meets the eye.”

Goeser cited various areas as possible contributors to the continually growing feed contamination, including greater anti-nutritional factors in fields following changes in tillage practices or warmer and wetter conditions. Rock River Laboratory said it has also recognized a seemingly linear increase in log counts of fungal measures in feedstuffs for the past five to seven years.

“Cows can usually fight off the low-level factors without an impact on their health, but increased contaminant intakes with today’s high-producing herds, combined with mycotoxins or stress, are bringing high-production cows to breaking points,” Goeser said.

Merging veterinary, nutritional science

As bacterial challenges arise and grow into clinical outbreaks, a veterinarian’s insight may be needed to assess and provide antibiotics, etc., in addition to a nutritionist’s assessment. Goeser advised producers to work with both their nutritionist and veterinarian to minimize or rid the herd of the animal health challenges.

“Develop a strategy with your veterinarian and nutritionist to combat the identified subject,” Goeser recommended. “Consider running a TMR hygiene diagnostic test, and put a strategy in place with a goal to greatly diminish or completely banish all on-farm feed contamination.”

Poor feed hygiene, combined with compromised animal immune status and feed management lapses, packs a punch, with the potential to put large groups in the sick pen. Regardless of the type of animals fed, producers should proactively monitor feed visually and with analysis to assess risk factors that are either obvious or invisible to the human eye. By putting protocols in place for successful fermentation, the risks of anti-nutritional factors are reduced, but more often than not, proactive nutritional management strategies should be followed as more and more detriments to good feed hygiene surface.

Founded in 1976, Rock River Laboratory is a family-owned laboratory network that provides production assistance to the agriculture industry through the use of advanced diagnostic systems, progressive techniques and research-supported analyses.

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