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The costs of mycotoxins in swine production

Although mycotoxins are now more widely discussed and considered, many producers remain undereducated on the scope of the threat mycotoxins can pose to their animals, as well as the cost-benefit ratio related to precautionary management programs.

The likely cost of mycotoxins to pig producers can now be estimated based on more than 30 years of evidence and scientific research. By linking research data on performance loss with economic factors, a practical understanding of mycotoxins’ effects on pigs can be achieved. In addition, estimates of return on preventative programs can be attained to evaluate management practices.

Historical Experience of Mycotoxins in Swine

In the 1960s, mycotoxins were commonly referred to as “moulds.” At the time, swine dysentery, E.coli, fertility issues and other common disorders were treated, with recurrence within weeks. In dealing with these “won’t go away diseases,” as they were referred to colloquially, producers were instructed to sanitize their bulk feed bins, a difficult and often dangerous undertaking. On-farm experience suggested the “muolds” were interfering with disease resistance, an early indicator of mycotoxins’ effect on immunity.

Half a century later, it is now understood and accepted that mycotoxins may cause a variety of symptoms in pigs from chronic to acute, and their effects may have long-term impacts on pig performance and health.  Mycotoxicosis can impact pigs during all stages of production, including breeding. Exposure to these mycotoxins can occur as either a large single dose (acute) or in smaller quantities over time (chronic), and their effects can be extensive, including changes to feeding behavior, alterations to intestinal structure and function, damage to internal organs, disruption of endocrine system signalling and modification of the immune system. Mycotoxins that suppress immune functions can lead to decreased resistance to disease, reoccurrence of chronic infections or poor efficacy of vaccination programs even when at chronic lower levels (Oswald et al., 2003; Taranu et al, 2003).

Symptoms of mycotoxicosis can be dependent on the type or concentration of mycotoxin involved, and the age or health status of the animal. To make matters more complicated, multiple mycotoxins can have greater negative effects with synergistic roles in pig performance and health (Swamy, 2012). As a result of the broad range of effects that mycotoxins can have on pigs, preventative measures are warranted.

Nevertheless, preventative and precautionary measures have often seemed arduous to producers. Drying grain to less than 14% moisture, avoiding feed ingredients and bedding that are suspect for contamination, the cost of proper storage and stock control, and the ongoing cleaning of bins and hoppers have been understood to be beneficial but often seem difficult to practically maintain. To help illustrate performance improvement based on these precautionary measures, John Gadd of International Pig Management Consultancy began collecting before-and-after figures from his clients’ performance records and also included in-feed mycoabsorbent results when the products emerged in the 1990s.

Quantifying Return on Investment

Gadd organized his data from 74 client performance record examinations (1995-2013) in terms of paybacks, which he termed “REOs”, or Return on Extra Outlay. Although the REO is listed in Euros, the observations are applicable universally.

In-feed paybacks

Young growing pigs:  Farms that did not use early-growth feed protection (no additive)—or at least part protection later on in the nurseries—experienced a cost of production (COP) increase of €8.82/pig due to poorer performance. This compares to €0.42 – €0.56/pig on farms where additives were used, resulting in an REO of 16:1. These farms especially benefitted from early in-feed protection at slaughter weight. In Gadd’s experience, a strong early protection resulted in at least three times the expected slaughter weight.

These observed impacts of mycotoxins on swine profitability can also be supported by the scientific literature. By comparing changes in pig performance to the total mycotoxin risk, the impact on profitability can be calculated. This is completed through the use of the Risk Equivalent Quantity (REQ), a number developed by the Alltech 37+Ò mycotoxin analysis that represents the calculated cumulative effect of multiple mycotoxins on animal performance. Based on the data from 16 published articles (1,503 pigs), nursery pigs may have an average estimated loss of gain by 40.3 g/day and a three point increase in FCR during a mycotoxin challenge with an REQ of 100 (toxicity equivalency to 100 ppb Aflatoxin B1). This loss in gain equates to a total decrease of 1.6 kg/pig over a 40-day nursery period, which may result in an additional 3.2 days required to reach the same market weight as non-challenged pigs.

Post-nursery growing/finishing pigs: Gadd’s own work was limited in this area, but he notes that information from other sources suggests benefits of using in-feed absorbents from 35 to 107 kg to have REOs between 5 and 7:1. Additional data from 15 published trials (1,050 pigs) indicates growing and finishing pigs may have estimated loss of gain by 38.7 g/day and a 3 point increase in FCR during mycotoxin challenge with an REQ of 100. This loss in gain equates to a total decrease of 5.4 kg/pig over a 140-day period, which may result in a carcass drag of 4.0 kg and as much as an extra 7 days required for these pigs to reach the same market weight as non-challenged pigs. These effects can impact profitability, equating to an estimated loss of €2.60/carcass.

Gilts: The cost of delayed entry into the herd and a lower conception rate was €31 per gilt (parity 0), leading to a 17.4% rise in COP for the whole herd. The cost of year-round in-feed mycotoxin deterrence averaged €9.60, a 2.3% rise in whole-herd production cost. This €9.60 for each replacement gilt is costly on investment, but the REO was €31 ÷ €9.6 = 3.2:1.

Multiparous sows: Total production costs from a variety of mycotoxin-originating disorders rose between 30% to 74% (€126-€311/sow) over an average period of 4 months, making the penalty in Europe as much as a one-third increase in the production cost per sow, or €42 to €104 per affected sow. The extra cost of adding a mycotoxin absorbent to all sows feed for a whole year was €7.20/sow. The REO was therefore €42÷€7.20 = 5.8:1 to €104÷7.20= 14.4:1.

REOs for all on-farm prevention: Precautionary management methods cost an average of 9.5% extra outlay on COP. However, in-feed precautions raised production costs only 2-3%. Both background and in-feed measures together provided REOs between 1.9:1 and 7.8:1. Gadd’s research suggests that it does pay to carry out all the management prevention measures available, particularly use of an in-feed absorbent.


Mycotoxin contamination is a costly risk in modern swine production. Understanding of mycotoxicoses in pigs is complicated by the variation in mycotoxin frequency from year to year, the occurrence of several mycotoxins together and the interactions between mycotoxins.  Often, pig performance is reduced before any physical signs are observed. As a result, though labour intensive and requiring initial investment, a proactive approach to mycotoxin management is crucial to ultimate profitability.

The Mycotoxin Management program from Alltech can help you deal with the threat that Mycotoxins present. To find out more about our program please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us using the Contact Us form on