Be on the Lookout for Mycotoxins in Livestock Feed

By: Jennifer Shike, previously published by Farm Journal’s Pork online

Producers need to be diligent about monitoring for mycotoxins in livestock feed this winter on the heels of weather conditions that promoted their growth this fall.

Kansas State toxicologist Steve Ensley says Kansas’ summer drought conditions 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.

“This year we have already had some death losses associated with mycotoxins in pigs and horses and so we’ve measured just a very few samples of corn and found very high concentrations of fumonisin and aflatoxin,” Ensley says. “I’m very concerned that it may be a bigger health issue statewide than the localized cases we’ve seen so far.”

States in the Corn Belt should be concerned about elevated fumonisin in corn, Ensley says. The fall weather patterns were conducive to a buildup of mycotoxins in feedstuffs, particularly harvested grain and livestock feed. 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 says. “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.”

Different species show different symptoms, including damage to the animals’ liver, kidney, brain or other organs. The disease is not transferrable to humans, Ensley says.

In addition to aflatoxin and fumonisin, other mycotoxins of concern in Kansas this year include vomitoxin and zearalenone. He also noted that dried distiller’s grains, a by-product of corn ethanol production, can concentrate mycotoxins.

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 says. “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 says 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 and Drug Administration.

Ensley recommends that producers work with local veterinarians to collect reliable samples and interpret results, or they can also contact the K-State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at 866-512-5650. K-State’s lab is also available by email,

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