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Top 10 indicators of mycotoxins in your poultry flock

poultry flock

What are mycotoxins?

Mycotoxins are produced by filamentous fungi (moulds) that are ever-present in nature, and under the right conditions, have the potential to contaminate almost all feedstuffs used in poultry production. Mycotoxins are not unique to specific moulds, meaning various species can produce the same mycotoxins. There are also single species that produce numerous mycotoxin types. While the significant presence of just one mycotoxin can impact the well-being of poultry, small levels of multiple toxins often lead to more serious issues.

What is the impact of mycotoxins on poultry?

Mycotoxins ingested by poultry impair cellular and tissue integrity. This results in an unhealthy imbalance of different physiological systems, causing organ malfunction. The effects of this are often seen as depressed poultry performance, decreased immunity and reduced health status. Toxicosis in poultry as a result of mycotoxins can either be acute or, more often, chronic. Depending on the species, sex, age and contamination level and length, birds can show varying symptoms. However, in most cases, there are certain performance losses associated with contamination.

How to manage mycotoxins in poultry production?

Even without signs of mould, the threat of mycotoxins is always looming. Effective management and preventative strategies must be continuous and well-prepared, as contamination levels and impact fluctuate regularly. Using HACCP principles, such as detailed risk and hazard analysis, plans should cover all aspects of the feed supply process, housing, farm management and health status control of the birds.

Early detection is key reducing issues in poultry’s natural immunity and, subsequently, production profitability.

As a rule of thumb, there are 10 primary indicators that all poultry producers should be aware of:

1. Signs of mould in poultry feedstuff

Whether pre- or post-harvest, mould growth and contamination are always a threat to poultry feed ingredients. This means that all stages of the feed journey (production, transportation and distribution) need to be monitored for potential contamination.

Visible mould cases make it easy to identify and mitigate the potential risk. However, mycotoxins are invisible to the naked eye, meaning specialist testing is needed to truly identify the problem. To help you identify different mould types, Alltech has prepared a quick guide which you can download here.

2. Recorded data and measurements

The signs of toxicosis in poultry are often hard to detect until they are already causing performance losses through issues such as compromised feed conversion. Keeping detailed and accurate measurements and data offers the producer insight into what is really going on, enabling them to implement an effective prevention strategy.

3. Reduced feed intake in poultry

Moulds, simply by being present in poultry feed, can adversely influence its taste and/or smell. However, mycotoxins go one step further by directly affecting the appetite of birds. This can eventually lead to birds completely refusing to eat the diet or intensively rooting through feed.

This can quickly become a major production issue, as notable performance losses, especially average daily weight gain, can result from even slight drops in daily feed intake.

4. Enteritis and diarrhoea (wet litter)

Wet droppings or chicken diarrhoea are an early warning sign of intestinal distress that offer a producer invaluable insight into the overall gut health of their birds. Wet litter could also present a food safety concern as it provides an ideal environment for bacterial growth.

Diarrhoea can often be a complex issue as it is a symptom of a variety of issues, including both non-pathogenic and pathogenic agents. The producer needs to identify the underlying cause of the disturbance and take corrective actions as soon as possible to re-establish optimal poultry gut health. Mycotoxins can directly reduce gut integrity, thus leading to decreased digestion and adsorption of dietary nutrients and increased intestinal barrier permeability, which in turn can lead to wet litter.

5. Decreased fertility and hatchability (parent stocks)

Along with the direct effects of some special mycotoxins, multi-toxin-contaminated feed is associated with unexpected drops in reproductive performance parameters. Mycotoxicosis greatly threatens commercial breeding units, as any reduction in bird fertility or egg hatchability can be extremely costly.

6. Increased susceptibility to diseases

There are growing incidences of pathogenic diseases (salmonellosis, necrotic enteritis, etc.) putting pressure on poultry profitability, by reducing productivity and increasing the cost of therapeutic treatment.

While we historically link mycotoxins in poultry to classic symptoms, such as reduced feed intake, oral lesions or reduced performance, producers are often unaware of the link between mycotoxins and flock health. In addition to the more common symptoms outlined above, factors such as reduced success of preventive vaccination, increasing infection outbreaks of facultative pathogens or just elevated medicine cost could suggest the need for a more detailed mycotoxin investigation.

7. Reduced egg production and poor eggshell quality

Mycotoxicosis in hens is linked to reduced egg production, most likely because it causes a decrease in protein synthesis. Lower albumin synthesis results from a degeneration of the liver tissue due to mycotoxin exposure. The eggshell is essential to protect the progeny. Thin and fragile shells can increase embryonic mortality, lower embryonic weight gain and decrease hatchability.

Eggshell quality is a function of the hen’s calcium and vitamin D3 metabolism. The bioavailability of these depends on intestinal integrity and the production of enzymes and transporters that aid feed metabolism. These processes can be adversely affected by mycotoxins.

8. Leg problems

Leg weakness is multifactorial in origin and can be influenced by management, genetics, environment, nutrition and mycotoxins. Various mycotoxins, independently and cumulatively, are known to adversely impact bone metabolism, leading to leg weakness.

9. Oral and gizzard lesions

Oral lesions are particularly prevalent in laying hens and breeders and may arise from different etiological agents. Some toxin types, such as type-A trichothecenes may cause lesions to the epithelium and increase the speed of epithelial cell renovation. Field veterinarians often report erosion or lesions in the mucosal lining of the gizzard in broiler and commercial layer operations.

In some cases, these lesions are already observed in day-old chicks before placement in the broiler house and prior to feed consumption. For young chicks, studies point to post-hatch stress or the presence of mycotoxins in breeder diets (which then carry over into the egg) as possible factors.

10. Drop in poultry performance parameters

While mycotoxins are invisible and hard to detect, they will almost always reveal themselves in performance parameter changes, both big and small. Negative impacts on homogeneity in same-aged bird groups, daily feed intake, growth parameters and feed efficiency can all result in serious economic loss.

High contamination levels can also lead to sudden, severe changes like increased mortality.

Detecting and mitigating the problem

As stated above, there is no way to remove mycotoxins from your poultry production completely. However, mitigating their negative effects is achievable using an adequate management strategy.

Alltech provides a suite of modern detection services that will help you uncover the hidden threat in your feed.

Looking for in-depth analysis and real-time recommendations?

Producers looking for on-farm mycotoxin detection can look to Alltech® RAPIREAD™. Suitable for detecting seven of the main mycotoxins in individual feed ingredients, and integrating online tools and the Neogen Raptor® test device, this rapid-test platform offers in-depth analysis and real-time actionable advice backed by data.

Seeking an overarching image of feed contaminants?

For producers looking for an overarching image of on-farm feed contaminants, the Alltech 37+® mycotoxin analysis can bring a comprehensive array of hidden challenges to light. The cornerstone of the Alltech mycotoxin management programme, this laboratory-based testing service investigates samples of your feed, searching for and identifying up t0 54 individual mycotoxins.

Want to mitigate the effects of mycotoxins in your poultry flock?

After identifying the contaminants in your raw materials and poultry feed, the next step is mitigation using a mycotoxin binder, such as Mycosorb A+® from Alltech in the poultry diet. Mycosorb A+® reduces mycotoxin absorption within the animal, offsetting the risks to health and productivity that are associated with mycotoxin-induced damage.

Mycosorb A+® reduces mycotoxin absorption within the animal, offsetting the risks to health and productivity that are associated with mycotoxin-induced damage. Mycotoxin related issues are not always easy to identify in animals, however there are some key signs to watch out for.

Sign up to download the protocol poster that our mycotoxin experts developed to guide you through the daily checks for potential signs of mycotoxin problems in your poultry flock.

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2020 European Summer Harvest Survey

Mycotoxin contamination starts in the field pre - harvest, and due to the increasing demands from the end consumer, and the growing concern surrounding food quality, animal feed safety has become an important topic in agriculture. To help address this, and allow producers and feed mills make the most effective management decisions to mitigate the challenge, Alltech has completed its 8th annual Summer Harvest Survey. In the 2020 survey, feed and ingredient samples from across Europe were analysed to create an overview of the mycotoxin risk throughout the continent. Find out more here.