Mycotoxins on Poultry Health and Productivity

Effects of Mycotoxins on Poultry Health and Productivity

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Aflatoxin affects all poultry species. Although it generally takes relatively high levels to cause mortality, low levels can be detrimental if continually fed. Young poultry, especially ducks and turkeys, are very susceptible. As a general rule, growing poultry should not receive more than 20 ppb aflatoxin in the diet. However, feeding levels lower than 20 ppb may still reduce their resistance to disease, decrease their ability to withstand stress and bruising, and generally make them unthrifty.

Laying hens generally can tolerate higher levels than young birds, but levels should still be less than 50 ppb. Aflatoxin contamination can reduce the birds’ ability to withstand stress by inhibiting the immune system. This malfunction can reduce egg size and possible lower egg production. In addition, one must pay special attention to the use of contaminated corn in layer rations because eggs are promptly used as human food and aflatoxin metabolites have been found in egg yolks.

Mycotoxin levels found in most field situations tend to be low. Yet the combination of low levels of mycotoxins with the stresses associated with commercial production situations and/or exposure to disease organisms can produce effects in poultry which are subtle, indirect, and sometimes ill-defined. Since the effects of mycotoxins on poultry are dependent upon the age, physiological state, and nutritional status of the animals at the time of exposure, and since mold growth at various points within the feed production and distribution system can magnify mycotoxin problems, mycotoxicoses can be difficult to diagnose in field situations.

Mycotoxins produced by the mold genus Fusarium include: T-2 toxin and its chemical relatives (trichothecenes), deoxynivalenol (DON), fumonisin, and zearalenone. Other animals tend to be more sensitive to the effects of fumonisin, deoxynivalenol, and zearalenone when compared to poultry. Nevertheless, detection of these mycotoxins within poultry rations indicates that the ration or the ingredients within the ration have been subjected to mold activity. Since numerous other mycotoxins, as well as reduced nutritive value and palatability of feeds, are generated by mold activity, the presence of fumonisin, deoxynivalenol, or zearalenone in poultry feeds is cause for concern.

T-2 toxin and trichothecenes can cause mouth and intestinal lesions as well as impair the birds’ immune response, causing egg production declines, decreased feed consumption, weight loss, and altered feather patterns. While much is yet to be learned, T-2 toxin and related compounds are currently thought to be most potent Fusarium mycotoxins for poultry.

DON alone has few effects in poultry. However, in field situations the DON level is sometimes associated with reduced feed consumption in layers and broiler breeders. This means that DON may be an indicator that T-2 or other unknown Fusarium mycotoxins are present.

Prepared by:

Mary Beth Genter, Extension Toxicology Specialist
Winston M. Hagler, Director of NCSU Mycotoxin Laboratory
Jeff A. Hansen, Extension Animal Science Specialist
Bob A. Mowrey, Extension Animal Science Specialist
Frank T. Jones, Editor, Extension Poultry Science Specialist
Matt H. Poore, Extension Animal Science Specialist
Lon W. Whitlow, Extension Animal Science Specialist

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