It’s the Anspachs’ livelihood to produce healthy horses and quality cattle, but it was only in recent years she started paying much closer attention to what went into her animals’ feed.
Anspach’s 35 horses are out on pasture and are reliant on hay and mineral supplements throughout the year. She said consistently using quality feed is imperative to ensure good health for her mares and foals.
While the climate at the Bar 6 Charolais and Angus ranch in Mitchell, Oregon, doesn’t always lend itself to issues with moldy hay, precautions are taken to make sure the horses, especially the mares and foals, have the cleanest feed available.
Anspach also uses a variety of products designed to help horses maintain health and performance in the face of natural challenges. It’s something all ranchers should consider as they care for the horses that assist them with their workdays.
As ranchers like Anspach work to preserve their way of life, they must continue to keep a close eye on their horses and be attentive to what’s in the feed they distribute daily.
Toxins and molds lurking in feeds and green pasture are nothing new to the ranching industry, but a lack of knowledge of mycotoxin exposure in horses can have a serious effect on the animals ranchers depend on every day.
Inside feed concentrates and pasture grasses lurk mold and its offspring of mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are harmful, secondary compounds produced by molds that are found in soil, grains, forages and feed. A horse can be exposed to mycotoxins by eating various contaminated feed ingredients.
These include concentrates (i.e., grains and protein supplements), whole grains, hay and green pasture.
Respiratory and dermal (skin) entry of mycotoxins can also occur, but these routes are of less significance. Some of the common mycotoxins affecting horses include aflatoxins, ochratoxins, vomitoxin (DON), T-2 toxin, fumonisins and ergot toxins.
“Mycotoxins practically affect every organ in the body,” said Dr. Swamy Haladi, global technical manager for Alltech’s mycotoxin management team.
“While some of them are more toxic to the liver and kidney, others are more dangerous to the stomach and intestines. But most of them are capable of decreasing the ability of horses to fight infection.”
Some of the mycotoxin symptoms that can be observed in horses include feed refusal, weight loss, sluggishness, diarrhea, poor conception rates, abortions and even death. While these symptoms can be caused by other things, toxins shouldn’t be ruled out.
More than 500 mycotoxins have been identified in feeds and feed ingredients. One mold can produce several mycotoxins and several molds can be present in one bag of feed, which can cause multiple issues on a ranch.
A study done in 2011 by Haladi and Dr. Alexandros Yiannikouris, global Mycosorb and analytical research director for Alltech, a global animal health and nutrition company, showed that only eight samples out of 128 tested for mycotoxins were negative – a 94 percent rate of contamination.
Field-oriented fusarium mycotoxins, especially Type B trichothecenes, are the most predominant mycotoxins detected in U.S. feeds (Figure 1); however, the study showed that ranchers need to be aware of toxins produced during storage.
Yiannikouris said determining mycotoxin presence is the first step to creating adequate protective methods.
Feed ingredients should be tested for molds and mycotoxins using reliable, accredited laboratories.
“Prevention and diagnosis of toxins can be difficult,” Yiannikouris said. “When we understand the challenge better, a more effective solution for mycotoxins can be provided.”
While storing feed in a cool, dry area and taking measures to have clean barns and feeding areas will assist in preventing mycotoxin exposure to horses, the problem of mycotoxins will still be present.
Haladi said ranchers should ask their feed suppliers if their concentrates are tested for mycotoxins.
“It’s a good question to start with,” Haladi said. “Mycotoxin management is an integrated process. It has to start in the field and must continue during feed manufacturing and storage.”
Along with careful feed management and mycotoxin analysis, horses should be carefully monitored for symptoms of mycotoxin exposure.
The length of time exposed and the concentration of toxins will affect the symptoms shown by an animal and, more importantly, the longer horses are exposed to mycotoxins, the harder it can be to cure them of mycotoxin issues.
It is understandable that ranchers and equestrians have little control over the different phases of crop production and storage of feed ingredients.
However, they can take small but important steps to ensure their horses are protected from dangerous toxins.
Choosing feed ingredients with care and making sure they are dried and stored properly until they are fed to horses will help fight against mycotoxins.
“It’s important to realize that mycotoxins represent an unavoidable risk,” Yiannikouris said.
The battle against mycotoxins starts with ranchers like Anspach who go the extra mile to prevent her horses from becoming a statistic.
The website www.knowmycotoxins.com provides additional information on mycotoxins including their origins, types and effects.