Mycotoxins and Poultry

Poultry consume feed that is likely to be contaminated with mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are extremely widespread in all feeds containing grains, maize, fruit and forage.  Including derivatives and metabolites, there are over 500 different mycotoxins.

It is widely accepted that poultry feeds are frequently contaminated with multiple mycotoxins.  When present together, these toxins can combine to increase their detrimental effects.

Complex diets and feed transitions that combine grain-based feeds all present a risk to poultry.  Straw bedding can also present a significant mycotoxin risk.

Typical mycotoxin exposure results in sub acute symptoms such as reduced feed intake, poorer FCR, lower fertility, higher disease rates, and a generally lower profitability.

Birds will never reach their full potential when adversely affected by even low levels of mycotoxins.

High levels of toxins can result in acute symptoms such as elevated disease or death.  Meat and eggs may also be unsuitable for human consumption for exceeding maximum permissible levels of toxins or their metabolites.

Know Your Risk, Take Control

Sources of Mycotoxins

Complex feed systems commonly used for poultry, including grain and other processed feeds in combination, present a significant risk of multiple mycotoxin exposure.

Such feeds can be commonly found to contain DON, ZON and FUM toxins, and can result in chronic health issues affecting performance and overall productivity in a flock.

Image of compound poultry feed

Compound Feed

Pelleting does not destroy mycotoxins.  Although any mould present within the feed may be killed, any mycotoxins they have laready produced will remain.

Image of a white chicken in a barn


Our tests on straw samples have shown to provide a host for fungi and their associated mycotoxins.  More details are available in our 2019 Straw Survey.

Effects of Mycotoxins in Poultry

Common symptoms of mycotoxins in poultry could include the following:

Impaired feathering

Inhomogeneous flocks

Fertility issues

Poor growth and reduced body weight

Immune suppression

Respiratory difficulties

Oral and skin lesions

Faecal stability

Gizzard lesions

Feed refusal

Poor egg quality

Fatty liver and kidney damage

Specific symptoms associated with the major mycotoxins are provided below:

There are several different types of Aflatoxin, but the most common are AFB1, AFB2, AFG1 and AFG2.  Aflatoxin M1 is the main metabolite of Aflatoxin B1.

Aflatoxins are known carcinogens and are responsible for liver damage and reduction of renal function1.

Digestive function is also reduced during aflatoxicosis.

Aspergillus flavus, the mould responsible for producing aflatoxins in commonly found infecting energy and protein rich commodities such as maize, rice and peanuts.2


1.  J. Wilkinson, D. Rood, D. Minior, K. Guillard, M. Darre, and L. K. Silbart.  "Immune Response to a Mucosally Administered Aflatoxin B1 Vaccine".  2003 Poultry Science 82:1565–1572.

2.  Y. A. Ditta, S. Mahad, and U. Bacha.  "Aflatoxins: Their Toxic Effect on Poultry and Recent Advances in Their Treatment".

Fumonisins are produced by Fusarium species, usually on grains (wheat, barley, oats, sorghum).

There are many different fumonisin toxins, although FB1 and FB2 are the most prevalent.

They are related to lower body weights, liver pathology, and blood and bile changes3.


3.  Filazi A, Yurdakok-Dikmen B, Kuzukiran O, Sireli UT. Mycotoxins in Poultry. In: Poultry Science. InTech; 2017. doi:10.5772/66302

Poultry are at lower risk of acute toxicosis from thrichothecenes, but this can increase the risk of chronic symptoms going undetected.

Deoxynivalenol is the most common mycotoxin in the trichothecene group, all of which produce similar effects in poultry, however these are difficult to diagnose as they are generally non-specific, chronic symptoms.

DON is also known as vomitoxin, as it causes nausea and loss of appetite.  This can result in feed refusal and reduced daily weight gain.  In laying flocks, this can result in fewer and lower quality eggs4.

Trichothecenes are able to disrupt protein and DNA/RNA synthesis5.

T2 and HT2 toxin are other examples of trichothecenes, as well as diacetoxyscirpenol (DAS).


4.  Filazi A, Yurdakok-Dikmen B, Kuzukiran O, Sireli UT. Mycotoxins in Poultry. In: Poultry Science. InTech; 2017. doi:10.5772/66302.

5.  Chen SS, Li YH, Lin MF. Chronic exposure to the fusarium mycotoxin deoxynivalenol: Impact on performance, immune organ, and intestinal integrity of slow-growing chickens. Toxins (Basel). 2017;9(10). doi:10.3390/toxins9100334

Produced by Fusarium species, so can be found on wheat and grain moulds.

ZON mimics oestrogen7 and so is related to reproductive issues such as fertility, egg shell thickness, and hatchability.

ZON is commonly detected in grain alongside DON.


7.  Hueza, I., Raspantini, P., Raspantini, L., Latorre, A., & Górniak, S. (2014). Zearalenone, an Estrogenic Mycotoxin, Is an Immunotoxic Compound. Toxins, 6(3), 1080–1095.

Monogastrics, including poultry are at greater risk from ochratoxin A than other mycotoxins.

Symptoms of ochratoxicosis in poultry include poor feed conversion and poor egg shell quality.  Ochratoxin especially is nephrotoxic, targeting the kidneys8.

Ochratoxin A has also been shown to carry over in to the meat after ingestion9.


8.  Denli, M., & Perez, J. (2010). Ochratoxins in Feed, a Risk for Animal and Human Health: Control Strategies. Toxins, 2(5), 1065–1077.

9.  Piskorska-Pliszczyńska, J., & Juszkiewicz, T. (1990). Tissue deposition and passage into eggs of ochratoxin A in Japanese quail. Journal of Environmental Pathology, Toxicology and Oncology : Official Organ of the International Society for Environmental Toxicology and Cancer, 10(1–2), 8—10.

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