Aflatoxins can be trouble in summer’s heat

Jun 27, 2024

The warm, wet weather of summer in the Southeast can be a tough time for managers to control the spread of aflatoxins in supplemental feed grains.

Supplemental feed is a valuable tool in quail management and when used in concert with quality habitat management and frequent prescribed fire, it can be the next best management practice for bobwhite population growth and sustainability once high population levels are achieved.

However, generated from fungi that can contaminate grain such as corn and milo, aflatoxins can impact the health of wildlife, from bobwhite to turkeys to deer.

The fungi, Aspergillus, grows on grains due to the carbohydrates. The aflatoxin is a byproduct of the fungus being under stress.

Grains with low levels of aflatoxin are con­sidered safe for feeding livestock and wildlife. The USDA does not allow grain with more than 20 ppb (parts per billion) to be sold for livestock and animal feed.

Fortunately, bobwhites tend to have a relatively higher tolerance to aflatoxins than other game.

Typically – assuming you start with aflatoxin-free grains –  under dry, cool conditions there is little worry about aflatoxins accumulating on grains, said Tall Timbers Game Bird Director Dwayne Elmore.

“Warm, moist conditions like we have all summer here, the aflatoxin can increase rapidly,” he said.

If exposed to enough toxins over time, bobwhites can die, but chronic issues are more likely.

“Turkey in particular seem to be extremely vulnerable to it,” Elmore said.

The effects of aflatoxins were first discovered in the 1960s in turkeys and at the time called “Turkey X Disease” before it was linked to contaminated grain.

Because aflatoxin effects the liver, toxicity can show up in a variety of ways associated with chronic illness, although isolated cases of acute illness and death have been documented.

It can reduced weight gain, suppression of the immune system, interference with reproductive function, lower growth rates in younger birds, reduced body mass in adults, reduced egg production, decrease feeding, cause organ failure and cause poorer overall health.

Best management practices for avoiding aflatoxin in supplemental feeding

There are several ways to minimize aflatoxin in supplemental feeding which is common on many quail properties in the Southeast.

Buy quality grain: Avoid grain with visible signs of mold growth Although the fungus may not be Aspergillus, it indicates proper conditions for its growth. Choose grain destined for livestock (USDA Certified) because it has to be tested while that designated for wildlife do not.

Keep it dry: During storage, keeping grain as dry as possible will limit the growth of Aspergillus. Extreme temperatures can cause condensation to accumulate inside of a storage container. Also, humidity in the air is an issue, not just grain getting wet from rain.

Lean into milo during summer: Milo does not develop aflatoxin as quickly as corn (due to the glucose levels in corn), giving you a buffer of a few more days.

Spread it out: Don’t pour grain in piles because it can hold moisture. Instead, disperse it with a spreader, which is our standard recommendation for quail feeding.

Limit ground time: Grain spread for supplemental feeding needs to be consumed within a two-week window. Tall Timbers discovered from an efficiency standpoint, putting out the recommended amount of feed every two weeks provides availability without waste. Avoid putting out extra feed to compensate for vacation or time off.

Dispose of grain: Grains that develop mold, have insects or start to clump should not be fed to wildlife. Burn or bury the affected grains to dispose of it.


















About the Author
Karl Etters
A Tallahassee native, Karl has a background in journalism and an even deeper background in exploring North Florida's wild spaces. Merge the two, and he's Tall Timbers' communication coordinator. When he's not spending time with family and friends, he can be found fly fishing, hunting, biking or walking the woods looking for turkeys.
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