Special Edition: Ruminant nutrition

Dairy feed challenges: 'Mycotoxins not the only culprits'

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Rock River Laboratory is offering a new diagnostic suite for US dairy and cattle producers after increasing demand for analysis from those sectors last year.

The agricultural analysis lab is looking beyond mycotoxin load in dairy and cattle feed to assess other anti-nutritional elements, said John Goeser, animal nutrition, research and innovation director with the Wisconsin company.

They have been receiving more and more queries from concerned nutritionists in US states including Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.

“Our customers have been calling on an increased level with health challenges, performance challenges – an isolated a number of different things from the 2016 corn crop,” he told FeedNavigator. 

“What we’re aiming to do is create awareness,” he said of the testing program. “Yes, mycotoxins are out there, but there are other factors [at play].”

The lab's new total mixed ration (TMR) hygiene diagnosis package includes: mold, yeast and vomitoxin counts, mold identification, Clostridium perfringens and other enterobacteria counts, TMR nutrient analysis and wet chemistry rumen starch digestion analysis.

More than mycotoxins

There has been an ongoing discussion about the presence of mycotoxins in feed in recent years, said Goeser. However, there may be more involved in animal production problems.

“I see probably four different areas that are negatively effecting animal health,” he said. “One being stress, and that is one we can’t do anything about from a nutrition standpoint.”

Other issues to consider include fungi and related mycotoxins, bacterial challenges and feed digestion, he said. “Typically a healthy animal can fight them off, but if there’s another insult to the animal whether it be mycotoxins suppressing the immune system, or stress, they can’t fight off these challenges as well,” he added.

The testing is designed to offer a look at multiple nutritional challenges that could be present, said Goeser. “We have a lot to learn and understand which [challenges] are effecting your dairy or herd and prioritize which [ones] to address,” he added.

A key benefit of knowing the profile of feedstuffs or a TMR is that it helps farmers determine what might be the more cost-effective approach to resolving the issue: “We can throw mycotoxin binders into a diet, but it’s expensive ... it’s all about looking out for a bottom line [while] addressing what needs to be addressed,” he added.   

Feed challenges

The corn crop in the upper Midwest appears to be linked to some of the production challenges, said Goeser. “It has to do with the 2016 corn feed – ground corn, corn silage, and potentially even corn gluten,” he added.

There was some thought that the wet weather later in the growing season could have contributed to anti-nutritional factors, he said. But an area expert reported that fungal infections had been seen earlier in the season.

The crop also matured early and a more mature corn plant may be less digestible, meaning that starch in a cow herd’s diet could pass into the hind gut and create conditions for ill health, said Goeser.

In some cases we might see animals back off feed, or have variable manure, or variable digestion, or we might lose a few animals and we can’t really put a finger on what happens,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a string of animals at one time – inconsistency is part of it – it’s inconsistent on when it shows up, how it shows up, it’s not like milkfat suppression. It just seems to happen, and then clears up and we’re left trying to figure out what happens.”

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