Reproductive Challenges

Mycotoxins and Reproduction

Feeds, containing mold-produced spores, are a growing concern for dairy producers. Mold spores reduce the nutrient quality of grain and produce secondary metabolites, known as mycotoxins. These poisons affect the digestive, immune and reproductive functions of the dairy cow and can allow other diseases to invade from an already depleted immune system. While there are hundreds of mycotoxins, only a few can be adequately identified for further study. Researchers now understand that these toxins, even at low levels and in combination with others, are far more debilitating than high levels of individual toxins due to a cumulative effect.

Growing, Harvesting, and Management of Feeds

Key soil born molds, such as fusarium and aspergillus, increase during periods of extreme weather. These weather changes, along with current economics of feed crop production, have changed tillage and production practices allowing increases in mold growth potential. The cool wet weather in many parts of the country during much of this year’s growing season has set the stage for mycotoxin challenges on many dairies this fall and winter.

During the life-cycle of molds, a spore (seed) is produced. And during this process, many chemicals are produced, with some being toxic to animals. In silage, once re-exposed to oxygen, molds start added growth at an incredible rate. Common practices as loosening silage for feed-out or single daily feed mixing, allows mixed feeds an excellent opportunity to produce high toxin levels before consumption.

Nutrition, Mycotoxins, and Reproduction

Nutritional factors, such as high MUN’s (Milk Urea Nitrogen), acidosis, and mycotoxins, all can have a negative effect on herd health status because they stress the immune function of the cow. Any damage to immune function debilitates reproductive performance. It may be clinical or sub-clinical but it happens every time. Optimum reproduction can only be achieved when the affect of mold produced mycotoxins, along with other nutritional problems, are controlled.

Preventive Action

Mycotoxin testing is one option to determine the level of challenge. Dairymen should take action when suspect feed ingredients are being fed, symptoms are observable, or tests show the presence of multiple toxins at any level.