Are mycotoxins a problem for ruminants?

A new feed season is approaching, so what should we be on the lookout for?
Written by: John Snede,  Nutritionist at Vilomix

According to several prognosis grains in many regions can be potentially affected with a high toxin pressure - especially DON (Source: AllAboutFeed

Warm, humid weather has been good for plant growth, but also increases the risk of fungal attack with the related problem of mycotoxins.

The recommendation is therefore to be extra aware of the need to use a low dose toxin binder as an insurance against the worst toxin occurrences.

Mycotoxins give more problems

Mycotoxins in the feed affect the herd in several ways:

  • Long-term effect:

When feeding with even a low content of mycotoxins over an extended period (several months), a build-up occurs in the body. The defence mechanism of the cow becomes overloaded.

  • Synergy effect:

The occurrence of 2 or more mycotoxins means that they amplify each other with a synergistic effect (2+2 = 10)

  • Masked mycotoxins:

Plants protect themselves against mould attack by ‘masking’ the mycotoxin, often in a sugar compound. That prevents detecting the mycotoxin by traditional analysis. The mycotoxin is released in the cow’s digestive system, making it freely accessible in the body where it can cause chaos.

                The cow digests contaminated feed                             Sugar breaks down in the gastrointestinal tract:
                containing masked mycotoxins                  Harmful mycotoxins are released, which can harm the cow

Source:  Biomin

The cow can cope – or can it?

Most people working with cattle agree that ruminants are able to neutralise many occurrences of mycotoxins. But there is often a price to pay:

  • When the cow neutralises toxins, it costs energy that could otherwise have been used to produce milk
  • The immune system is overloaded, and the cow reacts with a high cell count
  • The overload increases in line with using feed with a high mycotoxin content over several months.


If you suspect that your cattle are exposed to mycotoxins, here are the symptoms to look out for:

  • Decline in feed uptake
  • Declining milk production
  • Reproduction problems
  • Unhealthy cattle with dull coat
  • Sporadic – non-specific deaths
  • High and fluctuating cell counts
  • Digestive problems – displaced abomasum – mid-lactation milk fever – laminitis


Should you spend money on feed analyses?

It may well be a good idea to let your cows decide whether they have a problem with mycotoxins.

Try adding a toxin binder for a while, and keep an eye out for changes. If nothing happens, stop the toxin binder and check once again for a reaction.

Read more here on our new toxin binders for ruminants:  X-Bond Rumen