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Managing Moulds and Mycotoxins in Poultry Feeds

The term “mycotoxin” is derived from myco meaning fungi and toxin, a poison; hence, the word literally means poisons from fungi. There are more than 300 known  mycotoxins, but very little is known about the relative toxicity of most of these compounds. The fungi that produce mycotoxins can infect and produce mycotoxins in cereal grains such as corn and sorghum in the field     during the growing stage, at harvest time, and during storage. As grains progress through harvesting, storage, feed manufacture, and  delivery to the farm, the level of mycotoxin  contamination generally increases (Table 1).  Early suppression of mycotoxin levels, thus aids in reducing the final amount present in the poultry house.

Although problems related to mycotoxins have been observed in human and animal populations for centuries (NRC, 1979),  concerns in commercial poultry production began to focus on aflatoxin in 1960 when more than 100,000 turkey poults in Great Britain died from what was called “Turkey X disease” (Blount, 1961). This was later confirmed to be the result of aflatoxin from a toxic groundnut meal. Since that time, problems with mycotoxins have been      increasingly observed in all types of animal feeds. In part, this is due to changes in the methods used to harvest and store corn over the last 40 to 50 years. Fifty years ago, corn was harvested by hand or by  machines that picked the whole ear, and was rather dry at harvest. This system was replaced by machines that removed the ears from the stalk and shelled them in the  field. To reduce loss from shattering, corn is picked and shelled at a higher moisture content, and it molds quickly if rapid  drying is not used in storage. Mechanical shelling of wet corn also causes more kernel breakage and allows greater entry of fungal spores into the kernels (Table 2).  As yields have increased, drying facilities have often not kept pace and when coupled with escalated energy costs, this has resulted in more problems with high moisture corn.

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