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Introduction to mycotoxins

Ever present in the farm environment and a potential threat to the productivity of even the best-run livestock production operations, mycotoxin contamination should now be on every feed producer and farmer’s radar.

What are mycotoxins?

Mycotoxins are natural substances produced by moulds and fungi, which are common in the farm environment – surviving in many places and on many different types of feed sources.

More than 500 different mycotoxins have been identified to date and most animal feedstuffs are likely to be contaminated with multiple mycotoxins.

The growth of moulds and fungi – and mycotoxin production – is typically encouraged by heat and the presence of moisture. However, mycotoxins can also be produced by other factors that induce plant stress, such as drought.

Climate change and new feed storage practices

Climate change and feed storage practices are starting to influence the range of moulds occurring in farm feed stocks. And with traditional tilling and crop rotation practices diminishing too in many developed countries, mould contamination is persisting year-on-year, making the multiple mycotoxin threat very real.

Infected feed
Feed contaminated with mycotoxins

Types and origins

The most extensively studied mytcotoxins are those produced by the moulds Aspergillus, Fusarium, Pennicillium and Claviceps. The key mycotoxins produced by these moulds are aflatoxins, ochratoxins, deoxynivalenol (DON, vomitoxin), T-2 toxin, zearalone, fumoninsins and ergot toxins.

Mycotoxin Types
Crops contaminated with mycotoxins

Pre-harvest origins

Fusariums are the most predominant moulds contaminating crops in the field. Fusarium moulds can produce mycotoxins on the growing plant. Whilst the moulds themselves may not survive the transition from field to feeding trough, the mycotoxins will remain intact, albeit invisible to the naked eye.

Post-harvest origins

Once a crop is harvested and stored (whether grain or forage) it can still become contaminated with mould. Grain storage moulds typically originate from Aspergillus and Penicillium. Penicillium moulds are key contaminants of fermented feed ingredients and are capable of producing mycotoxins such as roquefortine C, patulin and mycophenolic acid.

Did you know?

‘Masked mycotoxins’ are a result of the bonding of a glucose molecule to the DON molecule by enzymatic action and it is believed the plant does this when in protection mode.  They often escape detection via conventional analytical mycotoxin detection methods. However these conjugated toxins can become active in the body as they lose the sugar molecule, causing toxicity to animals in the same way as free forms of mycotoxins.


Mycotoxins are hidden thieves likely to be responsible for numerous undiagnosed health issues in farmed livestock worldwide. But for the majority of livestock producers the result of mycotoxin presence is more likely to be seen as a subtle problem; Aflatoxin symptoms for example can will be many and varied, but the outcome in all cases will be reduced performance and lost profits.

Mycotoxins can affect the bottom line of any livestock operation in a number of ways:

  • Reduced feed intake and output (e.g. milk, meat, eggs)
  • Inefficient feed and facility utilisation
  • Digestive disturbances (Gastrointestinal tract, liver)
  • Compromised health status (e.g. increased somatic cell counts, mortality rates)
  • Compromised reproductive performance (e.g. reduced conception rate, abortions)

Managing the threat

Mycotoxins impair optimum livestock performance by affecting intestinal, organ and immune systems – which in turn has an obvious subsequent negative impact on profitability.

Animals at risk come into contact with mycotoxins via pasture, preserved forages, grains, by-products, complete commercial feeds and bedding materials.

Help is at hand however because Alltech has developed a global solution to help control mycotoxins through a combination of mycotoxin management programs, mycotoxin testing and binder technologies.

Effective mycotoxin management is about seeing the whole challenge, from the farm to feed mill and from risk assessment to feed management.  The Alltech Mycotoxin Management Team provide a number of solutions to help you mitigate the threat you could face from field or storage mycotoxins.