November 2013 Issue

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AFLATOXIN POISONING

Aflatoxin poisoning (aflatoxicosis) is one of nature's most potent toxins and quickly kills goats. A by-product of mold growth, aflatoxins do not go away, even if the mold dies. The major sources of aflatoxins, the molds Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, are found all over planet Earth. Initially soil borne, they like to grow on the rich nutrients of seeds. Aflatoxins can appear in corn, peanuts, wheat, rice, cottonseed, tree nuts, milo, and milk. Corn is a major ingredient in processed goat feed, and corn is one of the crops most affected by aflatoxins. Aflatoxins can occur both in pasture settings and when feed is in storage.

Stress resulting from dramatic weather changes help the fungi invade the plants. Moisture and heat are big contributors to plant stress. Temperatures higher than 75* Farenheit are necessary for the fungi to produce aflatoxins. Poorly ventilated feed storage conditions create and maintain this deadly environment. Moist conditions with high temperatures seem to be the precursor of aflatoxin in cotton and peanuts, but in corn it is drought stress and high temperatures. There is a belief among rural old-timers in Texas that when there are three days when the lowest temperature of the day is higher than 85* F, aflatoxin in corn will likely appear. The main areas where cottonseed with aflatoxin occur are the irrigated areas of far west Texas (El Paso area) and Arizona. Very seldom does aflatoxin show up in wheat or milo.

Symptoms of aflatoxin poisoning are non-specific to the point that goat producers can miss making a correct diagnosis. Young goats are most susceptible to aflatoxin poisoning, although all ages can be affected. Primary damage occurs in the liver, causing anemia that can be mistaken for a heavy wormload. Other symptoms include jaundice and dead kids in utero.

Aflatoxin poisoning can be acute (goat dies within hours) or chronic (recurring illness). Goats surviving aflatoxicosis may have lowered immune system function, reduced milk production, birth defects in their kids, and tumors. These goats may be susceptible to illnesses that they could have fought off had they not eaten aflatoxin-contaminated feed. Aflatoxins can be passed in milk. Producers drinking goat milk should be extra careful of the aflatoxin levels in their goat feed.

Treatment involves immediate removal of all goats from the pasture or feed causing the problem. Administration of C&D anti-toxin (not the toxoid), mineral oil stomach tubed into the goat so that aspiration of this tasteless liquid into the lungs does not occur, and oral introduction of activated charcoal into the rumen fast enough to bind up to toxins before they hit the bloodstream are possible sources of help -- if the producer cannot get the goat to a vet within 15 to 30 minutes. Producers should keep a bottle of Re-Covr in their medicine cabinet. Re-Covr is an injectible antihistamine (vet prescription tripelennamine hydrochloride) that may be used early in the illness at a dosage rate of one to two cc per 100 pounds bodyweight per adult animal every six hours in an attempt to slow down the damage caused by aflatoxins.

Subscribe FREE now! Monthly issues with new articles and other educational information on meat goat health, nutrition, and management written by Suzanne W. Gasparotto of Onion Creek Ranch and Pat Cotten of Bending Tree Ranch. In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Neither Suzanne Gasparotto nor Pat Cotten are veterinarians. None of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.


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Prevention is the best way to address aflatoxin poisoning. Test all hay before purchasing. Buy grain from mills that employ trained goat nutritionists and routinely check their supplies and storage facilities to make sure that aflatoxin-infected grains are not included in their products. Aflatoxin in corn is allowed up to certain levels - less then 20 parts per billion for dairy animals and young ruminants, 100 parts per billion for breeding animals, and 300 parts per billion for animals being fed for slaughter. Do not try to mix your own goat feed. The money you might save can be far less than you can lose in dead or permanently-damaged goats.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto

ONION CREEK RANCH Lohn, Texas

 

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