It's Unavoidable. So What Can You Do?
Like death and taxes, there are some things on the dairy that are just unavoidable. Mycotoxins are a good example. There are more than 400 different strains of mycotoxins that could be present on a dairy farm, so avoiding them is usually a losing exercise. However, there are opportunities to control the impact of mycotoxins on animal health and performance. Creating a process to control mycotoxin impact is important.
The first step toward controlling mycotoxins is to understand the strains that are present on the dairy. Currently there is no blood or urine test to detect mycotoxin presence in animals, but there are signs that mycotoxins may be impacting the herd. Tests that show elevated liver and kidney enzymes or increased immune cells could indicate mycotoxin impact. Or, if you recognize that your vaccination program is not working well, one culprit could be mycotoxin pressure. Often it’s a diagnosis of exclusion, and it’s difficult to blame a particular feed ingredient. The best option is to test the feed and the total mixed ration (TMR) for mycotoxins to understand what fungal strains are present.
Implementing a Process
Once you understand what strains are present, and if those strains are at a high enough threshold based on the strain, then implementing a mitigation process is important. Your mitigation process actually starts in the field. The best option to disrupt the mycotoxin lifecycle is through tillage. If you implement a no-till program, and you know there is a heavy mold load in a field or group of fields, work with the dairy’s agronomist to determine if a tillage option is available.
Often immature corn is more likely to carry mycotoxins, so start by making sure the right corn maturity is being planted. For example, if 120-day corn is planted but it will likely get harvested at a 90-day maturity, make the adjustment at planting to align maturity dates. Then harvest corn and all forages at the right dry matter level and store appropriately to reduce molds.
Adequate storage comes down to proper storage management. Chop forages at the right length and moisture levels to ensure adequate packing to reduce mold development. Manage storage facilities to limit rocks and other debris, in addition to standing water.
Once forages are harvested and stored properly, implement proper management protocols – including defacing techniques – to limit opportunities for spoilage and mold development. Implement feeding protocols that minimize cow stress, including feeding on a regular schedule and ensuring fresh feed is readily available at all times.
Keeping it Going
There are feed ingredients that can help reduce the impact of mycotoxins. These ingredients strengthen immunity and create a healthy microbiome inside the cow. A stable rumen pH and a healthy, diverse rumen microbe population is important to reduce mycotoxin challenges. There are mycotoxin binders available as well that are intended to prevent toxin absorption. There are many different types, so it’s important to understand what products are in the binder, what toxins it binds, and what research supports the expected benefits.