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Three litre response after Mycotoxin problem identified

Robert Ley and his son-in-law faced a difficult challenge on their dairy farm last year which took them a long time to rectify.  They have learned a valuable lesson which they feel is worth sharing.

The farm situated near Torrington in Devon has around 100 cows averaging 9500 litres/year.  They calve all year round and the diet consists of 50:50 grass silage : maize silage plus home mixed concentrates. 

Coming into the autumn last year Robert started to notice that the cows' appetites were slipping and that this was affecting milk yield.  Initially the vet was involved and Robert commented “a number of cows seemed to have developed a bit of a cough so we thought it may be lungworm”.   The vet treated the cows for lung worm but the problem persisted and by Nov/Dec the cows' milk yields had slipped back by around 6 litres. 

Working closely with his nutritionist Chris Laycock from Kite Consulting, they tried various diet changes and also decided to blood sample some cows, but the results came back normal and the problem seemed to persist. 

They took into consideration all the potential veterinary, management and diet problems that could be having a detrimental effect on intake and yields but still the cows didn’t respond and the poor performance persisted into the start of this year.

Chris started to suspect that the problem may be mycotoxins in the forages or the home mixed concentrates.  Chris commented “The grass silage and maize looked to be well conserved with no obvious signs of spoilage or heating, the home grown grain however was starting to showing some signs of heating, therefore it could be a possible source of mycotoxins ”. 

“The concentrate mix contained a high proportion of the these home grown cereals and it was being fed at 4kg in the parlour with cows being topped up to yield in out of parlour feeds, so the cows could be exposed to quite high levels of any mycotoxins that potentially existed in the cereals” he says.   

Robert commented “We had some problems with moisture in the grain in storage and this seems to have caused some heating and spoilage which could be the source of the problem”.

Chris advised that a mycotoxin binder, Ultrasorb be added to the ration.  “If mycotoxins are present and are causing a challenge to the cows then the addition of a mycotoxin binder should help them cope with it better and the cows should start to respond” he says.

“Following the decision to try Ultrasorb we kept a good record of how the cows were doing and within 2 weeks we started recording improvements in milk yields” Robert says.  He also added that “no other changes were made to the ration and milk yields continued to rise to around an extra three litres”.

Robert confessed “we should have started using the Ultrasorb sooner but we initially didn’t consider the problem could be mycotoxins and we spent a fair amount of time looking at other things, and the cost of adding another product to the ration also put us off to some extent”.  He added “ we decided to give it a try and the cows responded, producing an extra three litres so it has paid us back a very healthy return on the investment”.

Dairy cows can usually deal with certain level of mycotoxins in the diet, but when the levels increase then performance usually starts to suffer first.  They seem to affect the cows' immune systems and the effects can be exacerbated if there is any sub acute ruminal acidosis (SARA).  With lower rumen pH’s the levels of protozoa and fungi present in the rumen also reduces, and it is these two types of micro organism that help destroy mycotoxins.

Mycotoxins could be more widespread on farms than many producers think and Chris believes that more people should be aware of the problems they can cause with regard to general loss of performance.  The obvious signs such as loose dung, mucus tags in the dung, rough coats, swollen joints and lameness etc may not always be present but general performance and milk yields can suffer badly.
Chris would suggest that when mycotoxins are suspected of causing a problem then introduction of a mycotoxin binder such as Ultrasorb is worth a try to help cows deal with that challenge.

Feb 2012

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