Skip to main content

Moldy feed, mycotoxins and the risk to beef cattle

January 10, 2024
Moldy feed, mycotoxins and the risk to beef cattle

Beef animals can be at risk for mycotoxin-related health issues.

Why haven’t we given more thought to mycotoxin risk in beef cattle? Other animal industries have long recognized the risk, but it’s often overlooked in the beef industry. However, that narrative seems to have changed somewhat over the past few years, as better testing methods have revealed more mycotoxins and as producers better understand the negative impact mycotoxins can have on beef animals. 

Mycotoxins can be found in feedstuffs often fed to beef cattle.

Mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxins produced by certain types of molds (fungi), with some of the more common ones being from the Aspergillus, Fusarium, Penicillium and Claviceps families. Although the process isn’t fully understood, it is believed that mycotoxins are expressed when molds undergo stress. This stress can be induced by fluctuating temperatures or by drought or excess rainfall, among other stressors. Sound familiar in recent years?

Mold growth in feedstuffs can lead to a mycotoxin issue at any point in the life of the crop – during the growing season, after harvest or during storage. When tested, most feedstuffs will show more than one mycotoxin present, and it is not uncommon to have five or more. Alltech’s 2023 Harvest Analysis, a look at the mycotoxin risk in the corn harvest — both in silage and grain — showed an average of 4.9 mycotoxins per sample, with 91.5% of samples showing two or more. The analysis represented 400+ feedstuff samples from across areas of the United States.  These samples were tested by the Alltech 37+® lab.

A mycotoxin issue can present itself in several ways.

Mycotoxins have been shown to decrease cattle performance and thriftiness, decrease conception rates, increase animal health issues, and increase pregnancy loss. Some common symptoms of a mycotoxin challenge could include decreased and inconsistent feed intake, lack of response to treatment, decreased average daily gain, lameness, abortions, open animals and decreased milk production which can lead to lower growth rates in calves.   

There are several ways to test for mycotoxins.

Grain producers may be familiar with the black light test, performed at some elevators, that is used to visually inspect for some mycotoxins. This test, however, doesn’t work for all mycotoxins, particularly those that are most prevalent in the US. To get a better idea of the total amount and varieties, it is better to send a sample into a lab to be tested. There are some variations in equipment, processes and number of mycotoxins that can be detected by different labs. The Alltech 37+ lab in Lexington, Kentucky, currently tests for 54 different mycotoxins and will give a report that shows the types and quantity detected along with the potential impact those mycotoxins can have, especially in combination. This information can help producers to understand the physical and financial impact of mycotoxins on their operations.

You can mitigate mycotoxin risk through testing and proactive nutrition.

Mycotoxins can occur at any time and have been shown to negatively affect animals in all stages of beef production. Fortunately, there are ways to help offset the risk mycotoxins pose. Talk to an Alltech representative about mitigation strategies, like feed ingredients, that can be added to your loose mineral and mineral blocks, protein and mineral tubs, calf creep feeds and range cubes, feedlot supplements and through micro-dosing machines.

For a full look at the mycotoxin risk from the 2023 harvest and how it could impact you, download the 2023 US Harvest Analysis report.

About the author: 

Bryan Sanderson grew up in Lake Preston, South Dakota, and spent most of his childhood working on pig, crop and cattle farms. After receiving a degree in animal science from South Dakota State University, with minors in ag marketing and ag business, Bryan began his impressive career in animal agriculture. With experience in livestock production, feedlot supervision, sales and finance, Bryan is currently the U.S. beef business manager for Alltech.

I want to learn more about beef nutrition.