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Managing the east coast animal feed mycotoxin challenge

August 18, 2022

Nestled on the banks of the Clyde River, overlooking Vermont’s widely reputed lush, forested hills sits Poulin Grain. Proud to call Vermont home since 1932, this fourth-generation family-owned business offers personalized service — including one-on-one animal nutrition consultations, lab-based forage analysis and customized recommendations — along with the manufacturing and delivery of premium animal feeds. Poulin Grain’s diverse customer base includes livestock producers and animal enthusiasts throughout the eastern U.S. and Canada.

As noted by company president Josh Poulin, the nearly 90-year-old business “[has] always been committed to delivering high-quality animal nutrition products at a fair value, and taking care of [its] people, animals and customers.”  

"Poulin Grain facility"

Based in Newport, Vermont, Poulin Grain serves a wide range of customers throughout the eastern U.S. and Canada, including many dairy producers.

Managing mycotoxins in feed and forage

Poulin Grain maintains a steadfast focus on serving the animal and meeting their requirements, which is why they are consistently exploring new technologies that can help them implement superior quality control and produce animal feeds of only the highest caliber.

The company’s northeastern U.S. location — a region often referred to as “mycotoxin central” — led to them initially building a relationship with Alltech. The two companies worked together to implement a mycotoxin control program at Poulin’s mills while also helping their nutrition teams and customers understand more about this dynamic problem on-farm, which includes a central focus on enhancing forage quality.

Why mycotoxin testing is necessary

A 2021 study from Weaver et al. highlighted the prevalence of these toxic compounds in U.S. corn grain and corn silage by analyzing the results of almost 2,000 grain and forage samples across seven years. Findings showed that the mean numbers of mycotoxins per sample were 4.8 and 5.2 in grain and silage, respectively.

These findings are often replicated in the ongoing testing carried out by Alltech’s 37+® mycotoxin analysis laboratory network. For example, in 2021, over 7,000 tests revealed that an astounding 95% of samples contained two or more mycotoxins.

In recent years, several factors have combined to exacerbate the mycotoxin risk in animal diets worldwide. More extreme weather patterns, such as droughts and floods, are creating extra stress on crops, which is one of the primary predisposing factors for mold and mycotoxin development. Additionally, the shift to no-till crop establishment and reduced crop rotation is leading to a greater buildup of crop residues, which only serves to increase the mycotoxin risk in subsequent crops.

How mycotoxins impact animals

Mycotoxins can be the root cause of numerous problems on-farm. However, some of the more common mycotoxin symptoms include:

  • Digestive disorders, such as diarrhea.
  • Reproductive challenges, such as decreased fertility and abnormal estrous cycles.
  • Reduced animal performance, often linked to reduced feed consumption and nutrient utilization.
  • Compromised health, related to suppressed immunity and increased disease risk.

As demonstrated by the routine mycotoxin analysis mentioned above, the presence of multiple mycotoxins in grains and forages tends to be the norm rather than the exception. This may lead to additional or synergistic effects, further compounding the mycotoxin problem for livestock producers.

Taking a proactive approach to mycotoxin management

Although mycotoxins are often chemically stable enough to survive food and feed processing — meaning it is virtually impossible to eliminate them from the supply chain — there are some key steps that can be taken to enhance control efforts.

John Winchell serves as Alltech’s Northeast U.S. territory sales manager, where he has worked with Poulin Grain for nearly two years. When working through mycotoxin challenges, John has always believed it’s best to take a more proactive approach.

“When you think of mycotoxin management, I think it’s much more than just a product — it’s a program; [one that involves] looking at pre-harvest and post-harvest strategies, and [considering] different things, such as climate, population, and varieties,” John explains. “[This paints] a total picture as opposed to [taking a] reactive [approach].”

Aided by Winchell’s support throughout the crop-growing season, Poulin Grain and their dairy nutrition customers have implemented steps to help enhance forage quality and produce superior quality dairy feeds.

For example, to manage grain and forage quality post-harvest, John introduced Poulin Grain to both the Alltech 37+ mycotoxin analysis and Alltech RAPIREAD®.

Alltech 37+ is a lab-based mycotoxin detection method that can identify up to 54 individual mycotoxins, including those in total mixed rations (TMRs).

Alltech RAPIREAD utilizes a portable testing module to quickly detect six key mycotoxins. It is typically used directly on-farm or in the feed mill due to its ability to deliver quick results, often in less than 15 minutes.

“Working with [Alltech] 37+ to look at the different samples on different commodities and forages has really helped us get closer to where we need to be on forage quality and cow health,” states Winchell, while also highlighting how Poulin Grain were early adopters of Alltech RAPIREAD, thereby allowing mycotoxin control decisions to be activated on the same day that a challenge is identified.

"dairy cow forage quality"

Optimizing dairy forage quality is a key focus area for both Poulin Grain and Alltech.

Maximizing livestock productivity

Poulin Grain is no stranger to adaption and innovation, as noted by general manager and senior vice president Mike Tetreault, “One of the key things for Poulin Grain to continue to be leaders in animal nutrition is we must be innovative. And part of being innovative for us is having the right products, services and technologies [in place].” That is where John Winchell and Alltech come in.

According to Tetreault, “[Winchell] has been a tremendous asset for us — he’s been really committed [to serving] all our customers and covering every area. He’s been a true source of support, education and growth for all our customers and [our] company. I don’t know what we’d do without this Alltech service.”

From starting with a simple introductory webinar to today implementing the latest in mycotoxin detection, Mike feels the Poulin team has now become experts in managing mycotoxins and is far more able to make informed decisions.

What lies ahead

As Poulin Grain’s business continues to grow and develop the ways in which it serves its diverse customer base, Tetreault is excited about what lies ahead.

“When we find problems that really need further investigation, Alltech’s 37+ [program] has been there to support us dramatically for the last year,” he says. “We’ve had several situations where we’ve been able to help and correct management [on-farm]. It’s really been a great run, and I know that going forward, utilizing these Alltech services, products and technologies will [continue to] truly be an asset for Poulin Grain.”