The first reaction by farmers and consultants when looking at and assessing silage is to pick up a handful and smell it.
Even the best-made silage (and hay) can carry microscopic moulds invisible to the naked eye that can have far-reaching health consequences.
The 'quiet assassins' are moulds such as Aspergillus that produce mycotoxins that trigger an allergic reaction and can result in 'farmers lung'.
This disease is caused by Aspergillus and the symptoms are often confused by doctors with pneumonia.
The spores are so small that they enter the lung tissue and cause difficulty breathing, a dry cough, shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, fevers and chills and a general feeling of sickness.
It's difficult to diagnose and can become sub-acute (i.e. a low-grade infection) also showing up as loss of weight and appetite.
Chronic cases result in permanent lung damage.
Aspergillus is a common contaminant in agriculture, and there are others equally as dangerous hiding in silage and hay.
Stock can be affected as well and lost production/income is the result.
Mycotoxins can trigger immune suppression in humans and animals and slow pathological conditions ùeven cancer.
They also produce endotoxins that can destroy the immune system. It is estimated that 2-10 per cent of farm workers are affected at some time, and 20-40 per cent had positive antibodies when tested.
Even the best looking hay or silage can carry microscopic moulds and mycotoxins and so best practice is to avoid picking up a handful and having a big sniff. Skin contamination can also occur, so wash hands after handling.
Many farmers have smelt feedstuffs at some stage ù but anyone with farm staff should be advising their workers not to smell silage or hay as a part of an occupational health and safety induction.
There are court cases pending at this time that involve an employer's lack of training on this practice, so don't be the next farmer having an unwanted visit to the doctor ù or their lawyer.D
READ MORE: What is farmer's lung
Article courtesy of GippsDairy's How Now Gippy Cow