How to reduce the risk of grain poisoning in livestock
Grain poisoning is a common health issue faced by producers feeding grain, and is a gateway to increased risk of other health issues developing. The rapid fermentation of grain within the rumen reduces its pH, leading to conditions that favour lactic acid producing bacteria. This low pH environment becomes toxic to favourable microbes and leads to listless/depressed animals that have reduced appetite, become lame, develop scours, and potentially disease quickly. Often, animals that do survive experience irreversible damage to the gastro intestinal epithelium (lining). These are the ones we know about, what people don’t often talk about is what’s going on below the surface that goes unnoticed.
More commonly, animals go undetected. For every obvious case of grain poisoning, there will be a number of animals affected sub-clinically, which is known as SARA (sub-acute ruminal acidosis). These animals may appear completely fine however, are not converting feed efficiently, costing producers time and money.
How to reduce risk
The key to any successful grain-feeding program is how well this period is managed. Grazing forages that are high in fibre/low in energy, then changing to a readily fermentable feed source such as grain takes time for rumen bacteria to adapt. Start on low volumes of grain and gradually increase this over time to target levels. Ruminants require fibre to maintain rumen function, so ensure a palatable effective fibre source is available at all times, particularly during this critical phase.
In order to maintain healthy animals, changes to the diet should be kept to a minimum and if required, completed gradually over a number of days. Never change the diet abruptly or in conjunction with other major events or adverse weather and ensure animals are not off feed for long periods of time which can lead to gorging once back on feed.
Know what you’re feeding
All feed differs in nutritional value, offering certain qualities to the total diet and playing a different role depending on the goal of the feeding program. Similar feed can vary significantly from paddock to paddock or season to season, therefore testing feeds prior to including them into a ration is critical. Consideration needs to be given to the economics of the ration. However; it must be nutritional balanced to promote healthy and productive livestock.
Elders recommend using a reputable pelletised buffer, such as Acid Buf® from Nutrimax, that has a high surface area to bind acids at lower pH levels for prolonged periods of time.
For more information on how to risk grain poisoning in livestock, contact a Livestock Production Advisor at your local Elders branch.