Feeding a binder and yeast supplement could help livestock producers tackle the hidden risk of heightened mycotoxin challenge this year.
After one of the wettest years on record, many forages could be riddled with mycotoxins, potentially leading to a range of animal health issues if left unaddressed.
Cumbrian beef farmer Brian Atkinson is one producer who has been made aware of the issues surrounding mycotoxin challenge after some of his cattle fell ill last year.
Mr Atkinson was feeding his mainly British Blue and Limousin-cross stock a mixed ration of home-grown grass silage, barley wholecrop, fodder beet and barley. However, health issues such as lameness, infections and recurring pneumonia began to become evident.
"We started to get problems with their health after we began feeding our third-cut silage. That's when our vet Mike Reynolds, of Westpoint Veterinary Group, suggested we might have a mycotoxin problem," says Mr Atkinson who, with his wife Yvonne, farms more than 1,100 beef animals to raise as forward stores at Scratchmere Scar Farm, Plumpton, Penrith.
It was the multifaceted nature of the symptoms that made Mr Reynolds suspicious of mycotoxins. "I had seen it before in young animals and the cause had been mycotoxins. There was definitely a general underperformance, as well as sore, swollen hocks, that resulted in poor mobility, eye infections and pneumonia caused by the fungal mycotoxins," Mr Reynolds explains.
As a binder and yeast supplement combined, it not only eliminates the mycotoxin burden, but helps restore the rumen population, improving animal health and boosting feed conversion efficiency, which is particularly vital when animals are young.
Mycotoxins are poisonous compounds produced naturally by moulds and fungi. Last year's atrocious weather means levels are the highest since HGCA records began, causing a very high risk of aerobic spoilage at feed-out, which can undermine livestock performance and cause disease.
However, mycotoxins can be present even where no mould is visible, explains Mr Reynolds. "I visit Scratchmere Scar regularly to do routine beef work and clamp management is always very good. There was no evidence of heavy mould or heating in the clamps. However, I was still suspicious of mycotoxins - it can be a real hidden danger," he says.
In order to get on top of the mycotoxin problem, Mr Atkinson began using a combined mycotoxin binder and yeast supplement. Mr Reynolds says: "As a binder and yeast supplement combined, it not only eliminates the mycotoxin burden, but helps restore the rumen population, improving animal health and boosting feed conversion efficiency, which is particularly vital when animals are young."
Within 10 days Mr Atkinson says symptoms had improved. "We saw a marked improvement. The problems with the eyes and swollen hocks as well as the pneumonia improved very quickly and general body condition, as shown in the coat and hooves, was much better. The animals' appetites improved and you could also see a big difference in muck samples: it appeared firmer, showing less undigested feed," he says.
Mr Atkinson also decided to do muck sampling before and after using the mycotoxin binder and yeast supplement on the advice of Bob Kendal, Alltech's northern ruminant manager, as there was also a problem with scouring.
"The results showed feeding the supplement improved digestion, firming up manure to give up to 50% less small particles," says Mr Kendal.
Trials using the mycotoxin binder and yeast supplement also resulted in improved liveweight gain figures. At Broomhill Farm, Northumberland, 72 dairy-cross cattle averaging 630kg were fed a TMR of silage, barley and straw, with half the cattle getting 50g of the binder and supplement a day. Two months later the cattle receiving the supplement had grown 200g/day faster. "This was significant and working through costs versus output, it more than doubled that farmers' returns," says Mr Kendal.
Mr Atkinson says adding the binder gave a marked improvement. "I was most interested in how the product could improve my cattle's overall condition and combat mycotoxins and it certainly is a cost-effective way to feed cattle, ensuring they are making the very best use of home-grown forage."
More on this topic
Keep up to date with the latest feed prices and trends