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Mycotoxins and their effect on swine and poultry production

Feed grains contaminated by mycotoxins hurt feed quality and are detrimental to production in poultry and swine. Some key mycotoxins can induce differential impacts on poultry and swine production performance.

It is not a secret that animal feed containing mycotoxins will negatively impact production. During wet years, mycotoxins are very likely to be present in your grain products. Most animal systems are affected by a large dose of a single mycotoxin or a combination of many mycotoxins. This bulletin highlights the damage that mycotoxins can have on the digestive, immune, and reproductive systems of poultry and swine.

Fact 1: Mycotoxin exposure can cause direct damage to the digestive tract.

Intestinal disturbances, regardless of source, are often linked to reduced growth performance and reduced feed efficiency. Trichothecene mycotoxins can induce necrosis in the oral mucosa, esophagus and gastric compartments. Fumonisin mycotoxins often have extended periods of exposure time to the intestinal tissues due to poor absorption. The extended contact contributes to direct cellular damage, resulting in intestinal inflammation and diarrhea. In addition to the direct damage to the intestinal tract, ochratoxins and aflatoxins produce severe damage to the liver, which plays a fundamental role in the digestion and mobilization of nutrients after they are absorbed in the intestine.

Fact 2: Mycotoxin exposure decreases the ability of the digestive tract to digest and absorb nutrients.

In poultry, the intestinal tract is relatively short, making villi the main structures responsible for amplifying intestinal surface area for absorption of nutrients. Deoxynivalenol (DON) and Fusarium mycotoxins can shorten the intestinal villi in broilers and poults. Intestinal secretions and activity of enzymes responsible for the digestion of nutrients can be also affected by some toxins and thus contribute to decreased digestive ability. In swine, the impact of feeding mycotoxins can occur quickly; in one instance, after feeding mycotoxins for just 16 days, growing swine experienced negative effects of mycotoxins in intestinal health and growth performance. These effects were observed to impact growth for up to 6 weeks after mycotoxin contaminated feed was removed from the diet, decreasing average daily weight gain in pigs.

Fact 3: The presence of mycotoxins may render swine and poultry more susceptible to some bacterial pathogens, like E. coli and Salmonella.

This could be secondary to an immunosuppressive effect of mycotoxins. In general, large doses of mycotoxins such as ochratoxin and trichothecenes will lead to lymphocytic depletion in immune organs, meaning reduced immune function overall. Reduced immune function can also occur when contamination of feed occurs from different mycotoxins simultaneously, even if concentrations are below the respective maximum threshold individual mycotoxin. This is due to cooperative activity that occurs when several mycotoxins are fed at the same time. Depression of immune cells occurs along with inflammation on different organs renders several tissues more prone to bacterial and viral contamination. As a rule of thumb, after monogastrics have been consuming feed with contamination levels of mycotoxins, they will be more susceptible to infections and disease.

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