Kansas State University veterinarian Steve Ensley is urging producers to be especially diligent about monitoring for mycotoxins in livestock feed this winter on the heels of weather conditions that promoted their growth this fall.
Ensley, a toxicologist, said summer drought conditions in Kansas led to a heightened risk of aflatoxin in the state’s grain crop, while wet conditions during the 2018 harvest also made that grain susceptible to fumonisin. Similar growing conditions occurred in other parts of the Midwest and Southeast, so producers in those areas should also be on alert.
“This year, we have already had some death losses associated with mycotoxins in pigs and horses [in Kansas], and so we’ve measured just a very few samples of corn and found very high concentrations of fumonisin and aflatoxin,” Ensley said. “I’m very concerned that it may be a bigger health issue statewide than the localized cases we’ve seen so far.”
The fall weather patterns were conducive to a buildup of mycotoxins in feedstuffs, particularly harvested grain and livestock feed, Ensley said. It simply means that livestock producers should be on the lookout for feed that may contain unsafe concentrations of mycotoxins, or mold toxins.
“These molds are present in agricultural environments all the time, but when they get on the right substrate with the right temperature and humidity, then they grow and produce a toxin,” Ensley said. “They can be there and not produce a toxin or be there and produce a toxin like we are seeing this year.
“They are not infectious in nature. It’s a toxin that gets in the feed, and then the animal has to consume the feed at the right concentration to get ill,” he added.
Different animal species show different symptoms, including damage to the liver, kidney, brain or other organs.
In addition to aflatoxin and fumonisin, Ensley said other mycotoxins of concern this year include vomitoxin and zearalenone. He also noted that dried distillers grains, a byproduct of corn ethanol production, can concentrate mycotoxins.
Ensley said collecting a reliable sample of grain is key to detecting mycotoxins in an operation.
“The best time to sample is anytime you move grain from the field to the bin or from the bin to feeding,” he said. “Anytime that grain is moving and you can get multiple samples along that line, that’s the best way to obtain a random sample.”
Ensley said samples that test positive for a mycotoxin can sometimes be diluted to a safe level, except for aflatoxin, a carcinogen that is regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
Ensley recommended that producers work with local veterinarians to collect reliable samples and interpret results.