Overlooking the smallest detail can have a detrimental effect on feed use efficiency and performance – something which a dairy farm in the UK found out to their cost.
Rob Costello and Tom Rowe of Rowe Farm, Whittington, Gloucestershire suddenly witnessed a drop in milk output – something that was later attributed to mycotoxins.
Our milk yields were inexplicably dropping and the cows started to scour, says Costello, who milks 180 Holstein Friesian on a high-input/high-output system.
“Looking closer, we saw that dry matter intakes (DMI) had fallen by 2%. Our adviser explained that mycotoxins were the cause and that the slight moulding on the top and shoulders of the clamps was the most likely source of the problem.”
A national problem
Mycotoxins can be found throughout the UK. Studies undertaken on 38 samples of UK maize and whole-crop wheat silages for harvest in 2007 showed high levels of widespread mycotoxin contamination with no specific geographical bias.
In fact, more than 60% of samples registered a “high” content of mycotoxins, presenting significant productivity risks.
To put this into perspective Johanna Fink-Gremmels from the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands, advises that “25% of an animal's genetic potential is stolen by mycotoxins”.
The effects associated with mycotoxicosis in dairy cattle can be diverse, difficult to diagnose and include:
- Reduced feed intake
- Scouring/bloody faeces
- Reduced milk production
- Reduced fertility
- Increased somatic cell count
- Increased disease susceptibility.
Even small amounts of mycotoxins can produce a dramatic effect as Costello can confirm: “The face of the clamp is small and we get across it in two days, but the problem lay on the shoulders. There's not much mould to see. However, one mouthful and the effects are obvious”.
While reviewing his mycotoxin management strategy, which included regular cleaning of water troughs and the feed passage, Costello started to incorporate a mycotoxins binder.
“The results were immediate. The cows were milking better than before, they had stopped scouring and their DMI was up,” he says.
Mycotoxin binders do vary greatly, explains Dr Jules Taylor-Pickard, mycotoxin specialist at Alltech. “There are inorganic binders, made, for example, from clay, and organic binders.
“These additives will bind efficiently to a wide range of mycotoxins, reducing mycotoxin adsorption within the animal, but without affecting vitamins and minerals.”
At Rowe Farm Costello is philosophical about his learning curve in dealing with mycotoxins. “Now when we're doing TMR everyone knows what goes in and it is timed accurately to ensure consistency throughout the diet. Just because we can no longer see visible mould on the silage we don't stop treating for mycotoxins - we know they are present and that a proven treatment regime will mean one less thing to worry about.”