Trucks running in and out of the farm, tractors packing, and a smell we love: It’s silage harvest season. As we enter this time, it’s important to ensure proper silage management to reduce the impact of mold and mycotoxin contamination in your rations. Mold growth and the production of mycotoxins are typically associated with extremes in weather conditions leading to plant stress or hydration of feedstuffs, poor storage practices, feedstuff quality, and feeding conditions.1
Molds versus Mycotoxins
Molds are fungi that occur commonly in feedstuffs, including roughages or concentrates. They are present throughout the environment and can occur at various stages throughout the field and storage. Field mold spores enter the plant through roots, through silks during pollination, or because of plant damage from insects or environmental injury such as wind or hail. Other fungi grow more preferentially when feedstuffs are in storage. There are more than 1.5 million species of mold worldwide. However, only about 100,000 have been identified, and only a few of these are toxigenic molds, which may produce harmful toxic substances called mycotoxins.
Mycotoxins are toxic secondary metabolites, produced by molds causing a disease called a mycotoxicosis in cattle. When exposed, cattle can experience liver or kidney toxicity as well as central nervous system and reproductive effects. The economic impacts of mycotoxin contamination due to crop loss, livestock productivity, and regulatory programs are estimated to cost U.S. agriculture $1.4 billion on average.2
There are three types of molds that commonly produce mycotoxins: Aspergillus, Fusarium, and Penicillium. Each of the mycotoxins produced can have detrimental impacts to your cattle. See Table 1.