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Are mycotoxins impacting your heifers' health and future performance?

April 19, 2017
A dairy study found that operation costs can increase by 3 percent in the presence of mycotoxins.

Whether your dairy’s goal is to maintain or expand herd size, disease management of  heifers is an important focus for producers.  Exposure to molds and mycotoxins can leave heifers more vulnerable to enteritis (caused by E. coli and Salmonella) and pneumonia, which, when coupled with potential feeding challenges, can not only lead to death, but delay the onset of puberty and cause long-term negative effects to reproduction and milk production.

A dairy farm’s future is based on the future heifers produced and raised, a process that can carry a hefty cost. The cost of raising replacement heifers is $2.77 per day or $1,736 weaning to freshening.1

Mycotoxins' potential impact on health, immunity and performance of heifer calves and growing and breeding heifers

In a study of dairy cattle, operation costs increased by 3 percent in the presence of mycotoxins.  The annual return over variable costs decreased from 14.5 percent to 7.6 percent due to the presence of mycotoxins.


  • Impact immunity and increase susceptibility and severity to other disease challenges, such as enteritis and respiratory diseases (e.g., bovine respiratory disease). Reduce vaccine titer response and vaccination protection.2
  • Delay onset of puberty due to changes in calves/ growing heifers, with typical growth patterns becoming longer and causing increased time to first service and first conception.4
  • Contribute to metabolic instability and reduce performance characteristics, such as milk production and sustainable udder and leg health.4, 7
  • Alter nutrient absorption and metabolism’s effect on the endocrine system as well as suppression of the immune system.2, 6, 7
  • Reduce feed intake or  contribute  to feed refusal. 2, 3, 8, 9

A large number and variety of mycotoxins are present in plant material and especially in stored products. Exposure to these complex mixtures of mycotoxins may result in unexpected health risks. 

Mycotoxins' effect on animal health and performance has been demonstrated and is now well accepted. This is particularly true for ruminants, especially under stressful conditions, such as in calves.Due to a pre-existing negative energy balance, cows in the transition period are considered to be particularly sensitive to exposure to feeds contaminated with molds, fungal spores and mycotoxins.10 The use of mycotoxin deactivators under conditions where mycotoxins are thought to be present, even at low levels, appears to restore productivity and financial returns to a large extent.9

It has been speculated by researchers, such as Dr. Johanna Fink-Gremmels of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, that dairy replacement heifers could potentially lose up to 25 percent of their full genetic potential of milk production due to disease in early life and feed challenges from mycotoxins. This has a potential cost of $1,000 to $1,500 or more per three-year average of lifetime milk of a future cow.

Effective mycotoxin  management is about seeing the whole challenge. From the farm to the feed mill and from risk assessment to feed management, the Alltech® Mycotoxin Management program helps safeguard the health of your animals, the quality of your feed and the security of our food supply. For more information on the Alltech Mycotoxin Management program, visit



  1. Akins, M.S., and M.A. Hagedorn. 2015. The cost of raising dairy replacements: 2015 updates. Heifer Management Blueprints, University of Wisconsin Extension
  2. Mathur, S., P.D. Constable, R.M. Eppley, A.L. Waggoner, M.E. Tumbleson and W.M. Haschek. 2001. Fumonisin B1 is Hepatotoxic and Nephrotoxic in Milk Fed-Calves. Toxicological Sci. 60: 385-396.
  3. Al-Haidary, A., D.E. Spiers, G.E. Rottinghaus, G.B. Garner and M.R. Ellersieck. 2001. Thermoregulatory ability of beef heifers following intake of endophyte-infected tall fescue during controlled heat challenge. J. Anim. Sci. 79:1780-1788.
  4. Abeni, F., L. Migliorati, G.M. Terzano, M. Capelletti, A. Gallo, F. Masoero and G. Pirlo. 2014. Effects of two different blends of naturally mycotoxin contaminated maize meal on growth and metabolic profile in replacement heifers. Animal, 1-10.
  5. Marson, B. 2014. Bioeconomic assessment of organic mycotoxin binder in the diet of cattle fed agro-industrial byproducts. Masters thesis, Londrina State University, Brazil.
  6. Martin, L.M., K.M. Wood, P.L. McEwen, T.K. Smith, I.B. Mandell, A. Yiannikouris and K.C. Swanson. 2010. Effects of feeding corn naturally contaminated with Fusarium mycotoxins and/or a modified yeast cell wall extract on the performance, immunity and carcass characteristics of grain-fed veal calves. Anim. Feed Sci. Tech. 159:27-34.
  7. Gallo, A., G. Giuberti, J.C. Frisvad, T. Bertuzzi and K.F. Nielsen. 2015. Review on Mycotoxin Issues Ruminants: Occurrence in Forages, Effects of Mycotoxin Ingestion on Health Status and Animal Performance and Practical Strategies to Counteract their Negative Effects. Toxins 7:3057-111.
  8. Riet-Correa, F., R. Rivero, E. Odriozola, M. De Lourdes Adrien, R.M.T. Medeiros and A.L. Schild. 2013. Mycotoxicoses of Ruminants and Horses. J. Vet. Diagnostic Investigation 25(6):692-708.
  9. Van Eys, J., N. Beloglazova and R. Borutova. 2015. Mycotoxins in Dairy Cattle and Mycotoxin Deactivators, their Role and Economic Evaluation. Toxins, 7, doi:10.3390/toxins70x000x
  10. Fink-Gremmels, J. 2008. The role of mycotoxins in the health and performance of dairy cows. Vet. J. 176:84-92.


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