Drought Damage Dangers: Nitrates and Mycotoxins

Drought Damage Dangers: Nitrates and Mycotoxins

Photo: The Horse Staff

Is there any drought relief in sight? The USDA recently added another 200 drought stricken counties to the list of disaster areas. With continued triple-digit temperatures and rain drops few and far between in many areas, the USDA has now designated more than half of all counties in the United States drought emergency management regions.

While much of the nation's apprehension lies in the depleting harvest, many horse owners and livestock producers are also concerned about the potential for an unsafe feed supply this year due to the drought. Extreme temperatures and the additional stress on plant growth have put this year's crops at risk for increased nitrate levels as well as mold and mycotoxin problems.

Mycotoxins, harmful toxins produced by molds, can create a variety of health problems for animals depending on species of animal involved and type of toxins identified. In equine, there is a higher sensitivity to contaminated feed, and feed avoidance is a common symptom of mycotoxicosis in these animals.

According to Swamy Haladi, DVM, PhD, part of Alltech's Mycotoxin Management Team, this year's drought is the precursor for several different types of mycotoxins. Aspergillus and some of the Fusarium molds such as F. verticilloides and F. proliferatum will be the most prevalent. This can lead to production of aflatoxins and fumonisins in addition to routine incidences of vomitoxin (DON) and zearalenone in United States and Canadian feedstuffs. Silages will have even bigger challenges.

"Silage that is too dry, less than 65% moisture, will not pack well," Haladi said. "This situation can increase the chances of Penicillum molds appearing in our silage. As a result we can expect several silage-specific mycotoxins in addition to the field mycotoxins mentioned above. These silage-borne mycotoxins can act as antibiotics and kill beneficial microbes in the rumen. The net result is lowered productivity and metabolic disorders."

In order to indentify more of the risks associated with mycotoxins, Alltech recently launched its 37+ Program. The mass spectrometry technique LC-MS2 can investigate 38 different mycotoxins quantitatively, and more than 50 others qualitatively, in less than 15 minutes with limits of detection in the parts per quadrillion range.

"This approach allows us to have a broader analytical approach compared to the other commercial methods that can only see a 'snapshot' of contamination," Haladi said. "Additionally a proper understanding of the mycotoxin challenge allows implementation of integrated mycotoxin management programs and technologies in a timely manner."

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