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

Bedding

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:

Aflatoxin is commonly detected in maize and maize derivatives.

There are several different types of Aflatoxin, but the most common are B1, B2, G1 and G2.  Aflatoxin M1 is the main metabolite of Aflatoxin B1.

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


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.

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 changes.

They mimic and disrupt sphingolipid (ceramide) production.

There are many toxins in the tricothecene group, all of which could be produced by Fusarium moulds.  They share a similar structure and present similar symptoms in poultry.  They are routinely found in grain samples.

Deoxynivalenol (DON) is the most prevalent trichothecene and causes symptoms such as feed refusal and weight loss.

These toxins affect the gut integrity and reduce villus height.  They also interrupt DNA synthesis and protein synthesis.

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

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

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

ZON is commonly detected in grain alongside DON.

Ochratoxin mycotoxins can be produced by Aspergillus or Penicilium species of moulds.

Most common toxin found is Ochratoxin A (OTA)

Ochratoxin A interferes with DNA and RNA synthesis as well as renal carbohydrate metabolism.  It can cause weakness, anaemia, renal damage, and poor growth and performance.

Ergot alkaloids are a group of toxins produced by Claviceps mould species.

They are commonly found on wheat, rye and barley grains.

Ergots can have potent effects in poultry including reduced weight gain, lower fertility, and in high levels - reduced blood flow and secondary gangrene.

Many mycotoxins are modified by plants as a defence against their toxicity.

These modified forms are often difficult to detect by traditional methods such as ELISA or LFD due to their altered structure.

Once ingested by poultry, they are often reconverted back to their original form, regaining their original toxicity.

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