Toxic Wheat Impact on Cattle Growth and Health

Jenn Hoskins
6th May, 2024

Toxic Wheat Impact on Cattle Growth and Health

Image Source: Marian Havenga (photographer)

Key Findings

  • Study in Canada found that cattle eating grains with mycotoxins ate less and gained weight slower
  • Cattle on mycotoxin diets had changes in blood indicating possible liver and immune system effects
  • Despite health issues, mycotoxin-fed cattle ended up with leaner carcasses and more meat yield
In the realm of animal agriculture, mycotoxins—naturally occurring toxins produced by certain molds—pose a significant challenge. These substances can contaminate crops and, when ingested by livestock, lead to a range of health issues, including impaired growth and compromised immune function. A recent study by researchers at the University of Saskatchewan[1] has brought new insights into the effects of a specific combination of mycotoxins on cattle, with implications for both animal health and the efficiency of meat production. The study focused on deoxynivalenol (DON) and ergot alkaloids (EAs), two mycotoxins that are commonly found in grains such as wheat. DON is known to induce inflammation and oxidative stress, impacting liver function and immune responses[2]. Previous research has shown that DON and another mycotoxin, fumonisins, can cause intestinal damage and disrupt immune function in pigs[3]. Similarly, EAs have been found to affect heat dissipation and diet utilization in cattle, leading to reduced feed intake and altered metabolic hormone levels[4]. Building on these earlier findings, the University of Saskatchewan study aimed to assess the combined impact of DON and EAs at different levels on the growth and health of feedlot cattle. Forty steers were divided into four groups, receiving either low or high levels of mycotoxin-contaminated wheat screenings (MYC-L and MYC-H) or control diets with no mycotoxins (CON-L and CON-H). Over a 112-day period, the researchers meticulously recorded the animals' feed intake, growth rates, blood parameters, and carcass traits at the end of the trial. The results were telling. Steers on the mycotoxin diets ate significantly less—nearly 25% less—than those on the control diets. This reduced intake translated into a stark 42.1% decrease in average daily weight gain for the MYC steers compared to the CON group. Not only did the mycotoxins affect growth, but they also led to poorer feed efficiency, meaning that the cattle needed more feed to gain the same amount of weight as their control counterparts. Blood analyses revealed more about the health impacts of the mycotoxins. Steers on the MYC diets had lower levels of platelets and certain enzymes indicative of liver function, as well as changes in immune-related blood parameters, such as increased levels of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10. These findings suggest that the mycotoxins were having systemic effects, potentially impairing the animals' ability to fight infection and maintain normal physiological processes. Moreover, the carcass analysis showed that the MYC steers ended up with leaner carcasses and a higher meat yield, likely due to their reduced fat deposition as a consequence of lower feed intake and altered metabolism. The study highlights the detrimental effects of a combination of DON and EAs on cattle, confirming and expanding upon the results of earlier studies[2][3][4]. It underscores the importance of monitoring and managing mycotoxin levels in animal feed to safeguard animal health and ensure efficient meat production. However, the research also points to a need for further investigation to tease apart the individual contributions of DON and EAs to the observed health impacts, which could lead to more targeted mitigation strategies. In conclusion, the University of Saskatchewan's study provides a clearer picture of how mycotoxins can compromise livestock health and productivity. It's a crucial step forward in understanding the complex interactions between these toxins and animal physiology, with potential benefits for the agricultural industry in terms of improving animal welfare and optimizing production practices.

AgricultureHealthAnimal Science


Main Study

1) High deoxynivalenol and ergot alkaloid levels in wheat grain: effects on growth performance, carcass traits, rumen fermentation, and blood parameters of feedlot cattle

Published 3rd May, 2024

Related Studies

2) Deoxynivalenol exposure induces liver damage in mice: Inflammation and immune responses, oxidative stress, and protective effects of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG.

3) Chronic ingestion of deoxynivalenol and fumonisin, alone or in interaction, induces morphological and immunological changes in the intestine of piglets.

4) The effects of endophyte-infected tall fescue consumption on diet utilization and thermal regulation in cattle.

Journal: Journal of animal science, Issue: Vol 71, Issue 1, Jan 1993

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