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Food Poisoning & Mould Toxins in Poultry


By Dr Rob Marshall


Mould contamination of food and the environment has a potential to produce fungal toxins (mycotoxins) that are harmful to chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks. In my experience, these contaminations are responsible for many of the illnesses and egg laying problems seen in backyard and show poultry.

There are many different toxins that are harmful to poultry. Some are lethal toxins whilst others depress immunity and reduce appetite, exposing the flock to the effects of other diseases. Infertility, egg-laying problems, sick and dying offspring, leg abnormalities, gizzard blockages, cloacitis, vent gleet, recurrent respiratory infections, worm and coccidiosis outbreaks are commonly associated with the effects of fungal toxins.

Mould related diseases are common in backyard and show poultry as these birds are often unknowingly exposed to toxins found in contaminated grains, pelleted food, compost heaps, fertilizers, potting mixes and decaying foodstuffs. The best way to protect your birds from the debilitating effect of mould toxins is to ensuring they are not exposed to contaminated food or areas where contaminated foodstuff may be found.

Poultry kept in wet coastal regions where temperatures are mild and humidity is high are most susceptible to the effects of mould toxins but problems associated to mould infections are also common across inland areas following periods of rain and especially during spring and autumn.


Precautions Against Mould Infections


An understanding of the causes and symptoms associated with mould contamination should help you protect your flock from the distressing effects of this common problem.

Poorly stored pelleted foods and grains are especially prone to mould contamination when they are left unprotected from moist conditions. For this reason, all food and grit should be refreshed daily during wet or damp weather and opened food bags must be stored in airtight containers that are lifted off the ground by wood supports.

During wet weather chickens should not have access to compost areas and uneaten decaying fruits and vegetables should be removed from these areas at all times.

Ensure your birds do not eat potting mixes and plant fertilizers as these are common sources of toxic moulds and bacteria that are potentially lethal to chickens, ducks and geese.

Direct sunlight, protein and vitamin rich foods, water cleansers and routine treatments against worms, coccidiosis, lice and mites protect immunity and lessen the harmful effects of mycotoxins. See
Poultry Health Programme.


Types & Symptoms of Mycotoxins


Aflatoxin Poisoning


Aflatoxins are the most common mould toxin associated with poultry. They are highly toxic and carcinogenic mycotoxins produced by Aspergillus fungi. Poultry feeds and ingredients are especially vulnerable to fungal growth and aflatoxin formation. Chickens turkey and ducks are extremely vulnerable to the effects of aflatoxins. Aflatoxins cause immunosuppression, decreased food intake, sterility, anemia, dead in shell, egg abnormalities. Pale combs and wattle, weight loss, lethargy, leg weakness and abnormal egg-shell appearance are common symptoms of aflatoxin poisoning. Aflatoxicosis is strongly associated with increased susceptibility to infectious disease. Intestinal diseases associated with coccidiosis, roundworms or giardia infections that create fat, protein and riboflavin deficiencies worsen the effect of aflatoxins. The effect of the toxins is also enhanced by a lack of sunlight (vitamin D). Removal of the contaminated food usually results in recovery over a 3 weeks period. Additional protein, oils, riboflavin, iron, vitamin D accelerates recovery. See Poultry Health Programme.


Ergot Poisoning


Ergot poisoning is associated with a mould called Claviceps that attacks cereal grains especially rye but also other cereal grains including wheat, barley, rice and sorhum (milo). Pelleting feeds can increase the toxicity of ergot.

Encrustations on the comb and wattles, face, eyelids and legs are signs associated with ergot poisoning in chickens. Ducks are especially vulnerable to ergot poisoning and usually die.

Ask your veterinarian for an exact treatment for ergot poisoning.


Fusarium Poisoning


Fusarium poisoning involves many different toxins produced by Fusarium type moulds. These toxins include trichothecenes, moniliformin, fumonisins, fusarochromanone that often appear with aflatoxins. They are produced by soil and plant fungi when humidity is high and temperatures 6-24C. These toxins are commonly found in contaminated litter and feed as well in contaminated soil of gardens or paddocks.

Trichothecenes Toxin: The effects of Trichothecenes include ulceration of contact surfaces of the mouth and intestines causing immune system malfunction. Contaminated barley, sorghum (milo), corn and pelleted food have caused immuno-suppression in ducks, geese and chickens and predisposed these birds to severe illness and egg laying problems. Ducks are particularly prone to the effects of these toxins.

Fumonisins Toxin: These toxins occur in Fusarium mould contaminated maize, wheat and other cereal grains. They have been found to cause enlargement of the proventriculus and gizzard, liver disease and bone abnormalities. The presence of these toxins is often the underlying cause of gizzard blockages, egg peritonitis and egg laying problems in backyard chickens.

Fusarochromanone caused leg bone abnormalities in young chickens. Thse chickens are usually stunted and become vulnerable to respiratory diseases.

Ask your veterinarian for an exact treatment for fusarium poisoning.


Ochratoxin Poisoning


Ochratoxins are the most poisonous mycotoxins of poultry. They are kidney toxins produced by penicillin viridicatum and aspergillus ochraceous moulds. These dangerous moulds infect various grains, especially corn and pelleted feedstuffs. Symptoms include increased thirst, anemia, leg weakness, vent gleet, weight loss and severe immunosuppression.

Ask your veterinarian for an exact treatment for fusarium poisoning.


Citrinin Poisoning


Citrinin is a natural contaminant of corn, rice and other ceral grains. It is produced by penicillin and aspergillus fungi. Symptoms include increased water consumption and gizzard blockages related to mycotic ventriculitis.

Ask your veterinarian for an exact treatment for fusarium poisoning.


Mycotoxin Treatment


Toxic food should be identified and removed and replaced with unadulterated food.

I recommend the following treatment to support the sick bird whilst the toxins are removed from the body.
Crop feed 20mls heated ER-Quikgel 3x times daily. This acts as a lubricant to purge the contaminated foodstuff from the body as quickly as possible.

Provide culture tested seed with the addition of Turbobooster, E-powder Bloomford. Vitamin. trace elements, protein and lipid requirements are increased with mycotoxins so that additions of these can counter act the effects of aflatoxin. 3. Add Quik gel to drinking water. This treatment maintains circulation and kidney function, stimulates appetite and helps to disinfect intestinal tract.

Add methionine to diet to counteract the effects of aflatoxin.

Provide small amounts (1-2 gram twice daily) of baked clay picking stone. Clays bind to the mycotoxins and act as a detoxifying agent.

Probiotics containing lactobacillus help prevent aflatoxin absorption from small intestine. Charcoal has no effect on mycotoxin absorption.

Follow up treatment. Most chickens generally recover from most mycotoxicoses within about three weeks after the removal of the contaminated food, when clean food is made available and when treatment is initiated at the first signs of symptoms. Treatment of concurrent parasitic and bacterial diseases is also required to alleviate these secondary interactive problems.

Outlook is poor when there is long standing (more than 36 hours) crop impaction associated with gizzard impaction and the extensive presence of gas in intestines.

Chinese Silkies are our first choice backyard chicken. They are robust, loveable, quiet, lay good quality eggs and make ideal pets.

Our programmes are a simple and effective way to provide your chicken companions with the best possible care.

Click for information regarding our holistic methods for managing chicken diseases.

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