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Tainted Corn Can Harm Some Wildlife
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- High levels of aflatoxin have devastated much Mississippi corn, and while producers will want to salvage something from the crop, feeding it to wildlife is not a good option.
Dean Stewart, wildlife specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said low levels of aflatoxin, a toxic chemical byproduct of grain mold, can kill some birds, while larger animals can tolerate much more.
"Don't put aflatoxin corn out for the deer even though it probably won't kill them, because it can kill smaller animals that get into it," Stewart said.
Depending on the level of aflatoxin and how much is eaten, large mammals such as white-tailed deer can experience weight loss, anemia and reproductive problems. It can kill smaller animals and birds. Wild turkeys, particularly this year's poults, are especially susceptible as the toxins suppress the animal's immune system.
Don Bales, Wilkinson County Extension agent, said a lot of corn will be available to people at cheap prices around the state. Grain elevators can only buy corn with certain levels of aflatoxin. The rest should be deep plowed under.
"Because levels of aflatoxin are high this year, many loads of corn will be rejected by the conventional markets," Bales said. "Growers may turn to the wildlife feeding market to salvage some value from their crop. Hunters and wildlife managers should be aware of the potential problems with aflatoxin contaminated corn. Corn which is not acceptable for domestic animals should not be fed to wildlife."
Stewart said increased interest in feeding wildlife makes the aflatoxin threat even greater than before. Even clean corn can become contaminated. Stored corn that is allowed to get wet or that is spread on the ground can get moldy and develop aflatoxin.
"We don't recommend people feed corn to wildlife," Stewart said. "If people have decided to feed corn, use clean, certified feed and use a covered feeder that keeps it up off the ground."
Bales said even if the grain is not contaminated, wildlife feeding still has negative impacts.
"Feeding congregates deer and turkey in the same area where they can contact disease organisms," Bales said. "This increases the chance that a disease, if present, will work its way quickly through the population. Predators also learn to hunt near these feeding sites."
Aflatoxin corn that is left standing is also a danger to animals as they can eat large amounts of the affected corn. This corn should be plowed deep under the ground, as shallow plowing can leave much of it available to wildlife, Stewart said.
The effects of aflatoxin vary by the species of animal and the amount consumed. Severe cases result in liver disease, difficulty with breathing, convulsions or death. In less severe cases, animals have yellowed eyes or skin, bruising and nosebleeds, while chronic effects include weight loss, lack of appetite and impaired liver function.