One of the top trending topics this fall for swine and poultry operations is how to manage the sharply rising threat of mycotoxins.

Mycotoxin management ultimately requires a big picture viewpoint that considers the full progression of feed sources from the farm to the feed mill and through feed processing and storage, as well as the full spectrum from risk assessment to feed management.

Mycotoxins expert Dr. Tony Wang, who was trained at the University of Saskatchewan and has a strong research focus on feed and mycotoxin studies, says that thinking strategically is critical.

“We have learned that mycotoxins are a ubiquitous problem that can affect performance and health," says Wang, now a nutrition and technical service coordinator with Canadian Bio-Systems Inc. (CBS Inc.). "However, a multi-faceted approach to mycotoxin management that includes effective testing and the right feed technology can act as a very effective insurance policy for your feeding program."

He advises five key steps:

1. Take charge

Feed quality challenges fluctuate year to year. At the same time, industry awareness and understanding of the rising threat of mycotoxins and other grain contaminant issues is increasing every year. These threats at any level can seriously undermine feed integrity and animal impacts.

"The threat of mycotoxin contamination should be on the radar of every feed producer and livestock operation," says Wang.

In swine and pouiltry production, any level can pose a significant threat to feed integrity, with costly animal effects impacting everything from weight gain and feed efficiency to reproductive performance, he says.

However, with effective control programs swine and poultry operations can protect their feed and their stock, supporting optimal results.

2. Have a plan every year

Traditionally mycotoxins have represented a 'quiet issue' too often overlooked or discounted. However the high-risk conditions in certain areas the past few years have contributed to a reality check. There is much greater awareness that even small incidence of contaminants can undercut feed value, resulting in reduced performance and profitability.

While it’s critical to safeguard feed and protect animals during high risk years, industry is realizing with these issues becoming more common that taking action is good practice every year.

"We have the tools now -- we just need to use them," says Wang. "Having feed samples tested regularly and taking advantage of the latest feed technology solutions are two big components. Testing has improved -- it is much more robust and practical. Feed technology solutions have also improved, driven by new science-based advances.”

3. Strive for integrated solutions

Pre-harvest considerations may include crop rotation/ variety selection; fungicides application; seed cleaning/ seed treatment, increased seeding rate, staggered planting dates; and irrigation management.

Post-harvest considerations may include seed cleaning, drying and proper storage condition; and correct sampling/ analysis of mycotoxin levels which includes taking representative samples from multiple locations and utilizing options such as the "classical" method of chromatography-based technology or "rapid detection" via new options for antibody-based detection.

A number of mitigation options are also available at the feed processing level.

Interventions using feed technology should be applied strategically based on proper sample collection and analysis. A number of high-quality options exist to support clean feed before consumption by the animal.

Further options exist to protect the animal from possible contaminants that are consumed. "When looking at the possible options for animal protection, a key focus is activity in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT), which is both the site of nutrient absorptions and a major immune organ with a crucial role in maximizing performance," says Wang. "The GIT represents the first site of exposure to mycotoxins or feed-borne pathogens."

Today's top feed technology options are active within the GIT and serve a "Protect. Bind. Repair." role, he says.

4. Understand key factors impacting risk

Common sources of contaminants include pathogens such as fusarium, fungi such as ergot and other moisture-related issues such as mold, says Wang. A number of factors influence the effects of mycotoxins exposure, he says. For example: strain, age & sex; timing & duration; health status; mixture of mycotoxins; environmental / rearing condition; nutrient status and mycotoxin concentration.

Research is helping to improve the understanding of these factors and how this knowledge can be used to inform improved management strategies. For example, recent studies led by Wang himself have examined the challenge of fusarium-related mycotoxins in poultry feed, uncovering ground-breaking knowledge on timeframes when impacts are more pronounced and when targeted solutions can have the greatest impact.

5. Keep on top of the science

"New knowledge from science is one of the keys to progress," says Wang. "For example, through the studies of fusarium-related mycotoxins we are gaining a better understanding of how various factors influence dietary thresholds for DON-induced negative effects on poultry. This will help us direct potential methods to mitigate adverse effects to achieve the same growth performance in a cost-efficient manner, including under antibiotic-free systems."

In two independent feeding trials – one a feed preference trial and one a feeding behaviour trial – Wang and colleagues uncovered fresh knowledge to drive this progress forward. Among key findings, they determined:

  • Broiler chickens are more sensitive to dietary Fusarium mycotoxins (primarily DON) during the later stage of growth.
  • Low to moderate concentrations of Fusarium mycotoxins (< 8 ppm DON) induces taste aversion, alter feeding behaviour, suppress feed intake and growth.
  • Fusarium mycotoxin-contaminated diets should be avoided in broiler production, especially during later stage of growth.

“We have come a long way both in our knowledge and the solutions available,” says Wang. “The more we continue to learn and innovate, the better we are positioned to win the battle with mycotoxins.”

Learn more in this video.