by Katie Navarra

Feed contamination such as molds and mycotoxins can impact animal health and productivity for livestock and poultry. Given that feed costs account for nearly 70% of production costs, maintaining quality in total mixed rations (TMR) should be a priority.

“If you assume one pound of dry matter intact is roughly equal to 2.5 pounds of milk and the milk price is at $15/cwt, that milk loss totals $10,500 per month for a 1,000-cow dairy,” said Eugene Rodberg, a product manager for Kemin Animal Nutrition and Health. On April 17, Rodberg shared insights into maintaining feed quality, especially during summer months, during a webinar hosted by the Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership.

When silage is exposed to air, a spoilage cascade begins. Oxygen stimulates yeast to “wake up” and degrade into lactic acid. As yeast increases, the highly degradable nutrients are destroyed and heat increases. This process triggers pH to increase, which activates mold/bacteria leading to more spoilage and heating.

“Heating occurs very, very quickly and especially accelerates in the summer during warmer temperatures,” he said. “The molasses, protein and all the good things added to the TMR for rumen are also things that help non-beneficial bugs in the grain take off.”

The heat cycle produces mycotoxins, essentially mold poisons, which can cause a range of adverse health effects in humans and livestock from severe poisoning to long-term effects like immune deficiency and cancer. There are six major mycotoxins: aflatoxin, DON, Fumonisin, OTA, T2-HT2 and Zearalenone.

“Aflatoxin B is a carcinogen and Zearalenone is similar to estrogen in the body and producers can see abortions and false heats because Zearalenone tricks the animal into thinking she is pregnant,” he said. “In birds the T2 toxin causes mouth lesions around the beak.”

There is little correlation between the spore counts and the level of toxins in the TMR ration; however, Rodberg emphasized that a combination of multiple toxins can be more toxic than a high level of just one toxin. Mold inhibitors designed for feed and feed ingredients helps limit the degradation of TMR.

“Mold inhibitors should be broad spectrum, effective, non-corrosive, safe, easy to apply and economical,” he said.

Rodberg demonstrated the return on investment for using mold inhibitors. When one pound is added per ton for maintenance it costs about $1.80 per ton of TMR. The rate is increased to two pounds for summer control and costs $3.60 per ton of TMR. In more challenging situations, three pounds is added per ton and costs $5.40 per ton of TMR.

“When one pound is used per ton it increases the amount of dry matter a cow eats per day, which can increase milk production,” he said. “Feeding one pound per ton to 1,000 cows for 30 days can lead to a four-to-one return on investment.”

Good nutrition is the foundation for maintaining a healthy and productive dairy herd. A ration that provides a balanced blend of protein, carbohydrate and mineral feedstuffs delivers needed nourishment. Providing and protecting a TMR from mold is critical for herd health and to protect a farm’s investment in feed.

“If we can get more feed consumption and increase productivity that increases ROI,” he said. “It also gets cattle to keep eating, which is a key thing to help keep herd health where it needs to be.”