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What’s hiding in your dairy cattle feed?

Agrarian Solutions
Testing dairy cattle feed is critical to identify and address mycotoxin issues so they don’t lead to milk production drops and reproductive challenges.

Creating a total mixed ration (TMR) is like a work of art - you work hard to perfectly balance ingredients to provide your cows the nutrition they need for optimal production. But, there’s an unseen pathogen that can throw your ration off course: mycotoxins.

“Mycotoxins are an issue every year and can have a costly impact on your herd if not properly monitored and managed,” says John Doerr, Ph.D., vice president of science and technology, Agrarian Solutions. “Feed testing can help you gain a better picture of the specific mycotoxin challenges in your ration and assist in developing solutions.”

Here are the answers to three frequently asked questions about feed testing:

What can feed testing tell you?

Testing feed is critical to identify and address mycotoxin issues proactively so they don’t lead to milk production drops and reproductive challenges. Often, farms may be dealing with more than one type of mycotoxin and their presence in feed is ever-changing.

Feed testing can tell you:

  • What mycotoxins may be causing harm to your herd
  • What adjustments to make before damage caused by mycotoxins is hard or impossible to repair
  • What vendors, if any, may be selling you contaminated feedstuffs

“It’s also important to watch your herd closely for issues like loose manure, cows going off feed, abortions, unusually low milk production or missed heats,” says Dr. Doerr. “While these can be symptoms of a variety of health issues, sometimes the cause is an underlying mycotoxin which feed testing can identify.”

John Doerr

How often should you test feed?

Seasonal changes in fall and spring can create a spike in mycotoxins. Testing at these times helps you manage mycotoxin risk and make necessary changes to the ration to prevent costly health problems.

“Testing should be managed year-round,” says Dr. Doerr. “Testing frequency can vary from farm to farm based on potential risk and health of cows.”

A key time to test is when a new load of ingredients, like shell corn or cottonseed, is delivered to your farm, or when you’re starting a new batch of silage in your TMR. These ingredients could have varying mycotoxins you haven’t found in your feed. Continue testing these ingredients every two months until they are fed out or replaced.

It is also recommended to take two to three samples throughout mid- to late-fall to understand the mycotoxin risk in newly cropped feed.

How can you make the most of your report?

You work with your nutritionist or feed representative to take feed samples, send it to the lab and get a report back. From there, it’s time to dig into the report data.

“Mycotoxin analysis reports are a great tool to identify the type of mycotoxins you have in your feed and get recommendations to form a solution,” says Dr. Doerr.

At a quick glance, the report determines whether you have a high, medium or low risk of a particular mycotoxin or more than one mycotoxin (see example report).

A chart from a mycotoxin analysis report shows a feed test with a high level of Deoxynivalenol (DON/Vomitoxin) and a medium level of Zearalenone.

Depending on the company you’re testing through, a typical report also provides specific product recommendations to counter the effects of a mycotoxin issue, but you need to work with your nutritionist and veterinarian to make ration adjustments.

“It’s important to talk with your nutritionist and veterinarian to determine the best steps to take after receiving your report results and adjust,” says Dr. Doerr. “A mycotoxin challenge can quickly cause a big problem, so addressing it promptly is critical.”

Every farm can be impacted by mycotoxins – even at a low level. Contact your local Agrarian Solutions or Select Sires representative to discuss how to get a free feed sample analysis and a quarterly report of common mycotoxin issues in your area. Learn more at agrariansolutions.com/issues/mycotoxins-in-your-feed.

Since 1996, Agrarian Solutions has been a global leader in providing L-Form bacteria-based technologies for dairy cattle, swine and poultry.  Learn more about Agrarian products and technology at agrariansolutions.com.