Mycotoxins in Southern Forages

Findings from the Seminole ranches in southern Florida suggest mycotoxins could be present in forages in other parts of the Southeast. ( Farm Journal )

In many cases, veterinarians know exactly how sickness appears in a group of cattle. In other cases the source remains a mystery, and management, by necessity, focuses on treatment rather than prevention.

Fortunately, researchers and practitioners continue asking questions and turning over rocks in search of causes, slowly building a management and biosecurity knowledge base. These new insights can be frightening, but at the least can keep us from losing ground, and at best help the industry improve in assuring animal health, welfare and food quality.

At the recent Academy of Veterinary Consultants (AVC) summer conference, several presentations highlighted potential sources of cattle morbidity, where further study and increased awareness could help guide future management and biosecurity efforts.

One such presentation featured Aaron Stam, a Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Agent for the Seminole Tribe in South Florida, one of the largest cow-calf operations in Florida. Following a mild winter in 2014, forage was abundant but cows lost body condition and calving rates dropped significantly. Subsequent testing ruled out mineral deficiencies and toxic plants, and the problem remained a mystery until a visiting veterinarian from Kentucky suggested the signs looked like fescue toxicosis.

There is no fescue grown in the area, and most of the improved pasture on Seminole ranches features Bermuda or Bahia grass. With help from the University of Florida and BioMin, the team began testing and found high levels of mycotoxins in the local forages, especially in Bermuda grass, in low, wet areas during the cooler seasons.

Stam helped tribal ranchers run a two-year controlled trial using BioMin’s Biofix Plus supplement to mitigate effects of mycotoxins and saw significant improvements in calving rates and weaning weights on low-wet pastures. Stam points out that Bermuda grass dominates improved pastures across much of the Southeast, so the problem could be more widespread than realized.

AVC members can access the full recorded proceedings from every AVC conference, and qualify for continuing education credits. The proceedings are available on the AVC website or on mobile devices using an app developed by Kansas State University’s Beef Cattle Institute. The app is available from the Apple App Store or Google Play. Search “BCI Conference.”

The AVC’s winter 2018 conference takes place Nov 29 to Dec 1, at the Intercontinental Hotel, Kansas City, Mo.