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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Landowners may be accidentally poisoning wildlife

STILLWATER, Okla. – Cool evenings and warm days are a sure sign autumn is here, which means hunting seasons are blasting off in Oklahoma. But, high humidity and warm temperatures this time of year may be contributing to the accidental poisoning of many wildlife species

Aflatoxins are produced by a fungus naturally occurring in the soil and may be transported to grain crops by wind or insects. Damage to grains from high temperatures, drought or insect infestation may allow colonization of the fungus, leading to aflatoxin contamination.

Aflatoxin was first identified when it caused the death of commercially raised turkeys in 1963. Regulation for animal and human consumption soon followed.

The USDA limits grain for livestock at no more than 20 parts per billion. So, often when grain tests higher, it can end up being sold as "wildlife" or "deer" grain.

“For this reason, I advise landowners to only purchase grain that is USDA approved for livestock and to avoid using the ‘wildlife’ grain,” said Dwayne Elmore, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist.

While aflatoxin has been implicated in mass mortality of waterfowl and other

wildlife species, the majority of people involved in wildlife feeding are unaware of the risk it poses to wildlife. As carcinogens, the eaten aflatoxins can kill deer and many other wildlife.

“Birds are particularly vulnerable as they seem to be affected at lower concentrations,” said Elmore. “Quail and wild turkey, for example, are at high risk as they readily eat waste grain and are highly susceptible to aflatoxin.”

While visible symptoms can happen at high dosage, most affects are chronic and would not be apparent to the landowner.

“Liver failure, lowered reproduction and immune impairment are just a few of the issues that can be caused to wildlife,” he said. “We strongly discourage feeding grain to wildlife during the warm and moist times of the year (April-October), to put out limited quantities at any one time, to avoid piling grain and to choose milo over corn, as aflatoxin concentration tends to be less in milo."

The OSU Fact Sheet, NREM-9021, also suggests not feeding damaged grain that has mold or is clumping to wildlife and regularly cleaning grain feeders with bleach.

For more information, visit and search “NREM-9021.”


Sean Hubbard
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
157 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-4490
Fax: 405-744-5739

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078