Identifying opportunities for incremental gains within poultry nutrition

Published Monday, 15th January 2018
Identifying opportunities for incremental gains within poultry nutrition

Against the backdrop of increasing consumer pressure, poultry producers are looking to get the most value out of their operations, says Tiago Santos, AB Vista’s Global Technical Director. 

Companies spend considerable time and effort to evaluate products, suppliers and different applications to remain competitive. Nutritionists have a key role in this process and have to be highly technical in order to determine these differences when incremental gains become more important to the success of their companies.  

Science has a role to play in identifying incremental gains that otherwise may not be realized. Scientific advancements within the field of nutrition and technology can take several forms:

  • Improved understanding of physiological processes within poultry;
  • Greater understanding of how to extract more insight from analytical methods employed throughout the feed production process, examples being analysis of raw materials and feed production;
  • Research within product areas to better understand mode of action, enabling further optimization of product application.

Regardless of which form such advancements take, the collective insight gained can provide producers with a different perspective or ‘feed intelligence’ to help fine-tune the nutritional approach employed. This may take the form of formulating diets to better meet nutritional requirements, which can result in fewer nutrients being wasted. This can lead to fewer broiler production problems, resulting in better performance at a lower cost.

It is the aggregation of these incremental gains that provides companies with a competitive edge and enables them to remain profitable in today’s market climate. 

More targeted nutritional approach

Across the feed industry, companies are looking to be more targeted with their nutritional approach, and this is set to continue given the changes taking place within the global marketplace. An example is with regards to how they apply feed enzymes, and in particular phytase.

The phytase sector has seen substantial growth over the past ten years. Most poultry feeds worldwide (approximately 90%) have a phytase added to improve feed efficiency and, in general, we are seeing a trend towards higher usage per ton treated. The benefits of using a phytase come from both the dose applied and the use of a product that is optimized for phytate breakdown.

Evolution of the use of phytase

As the dose of a phytase with high phytate binding affinity increases, it is possible to almost eliminate the anti-nutritional effect of phytate and releases significant amounts of dietary inositol for the animal (figure 1). Inositol plays a key role in several functions including cell survival and growth, central nervous system development and function, bone structure and formation, oxygen transportation and general metabolism, and reproduction.

Figure 1: A phytase with a high binding affinity to phytate, such as Quantum Blue, breaks down phytate (IP6) and its lower esters as the dose increases and subsequently releases inositol and the valuable nutrients that are impaired by or bound to phytate.  

Maximum phytate breakdown leads to a lower phytate concentration in the gut, reducing the chelation effect of this molecule with calcium and other minerals such as zinc, iron and copper. It also leads to higher protein solubility and improves amino acid digestibility and absorption, lowers energy and nutrient losses and increases phosphorus absorption. All of these nutrient aspects can be considered in feed formulation programs, generating feed cost savings while maintaining performance, leading to a more sustainable production.

Traditionally phytase was used to release phosphorus; however, feed manufacturers are now much more aware of these so called ‘extra-phosphoric effects’ from the complete breakdown of the phytate in the diet. In order to get these benefits, it becomes even more important to know the total phytate concentration of the diet.

Understanding phytate levels in diets

Phytate which is present in all plant-based feedstuffs, binds with both proteins and minerals (especially calcium) in the gastro-intestinal tract, reducing digestibility and utilization of important nutrients. Phytate varies within raw materials (figure 2), and this will lead to variable phytate content of complete feeds.

Figure 2: Phytic-P levels in broiler diets from the United States, Mexico and Central America and South America. A total of around 16,000 samples were analyzed.

Thus, understanding the phytate level can help nutritionists to optimize their phytase dosage without risking performance losses or welfare problems.

Opportunities for incremental gains

The ability to determine the level of phytate in ingredients and feed by Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIR) is thus relevant, helping to identify the phytase application that can deliver the best return on investment. NIR gives nutritionists confidence that there is sufficient substrate on which a phytase can act.

On the other hand, if higher levels of dietary phytate are detected producers can use higher doses of an efficient phytase to increase phosphate availability and reduce the anti-nutritive effects of phytate more effectively. This allows producers to tap into incremental gains that may otherwise have been lost or not realized. 

The phytase application to deliver the greatest return may vary across regions and between companies, and range from looking for improved performance or greater feed cost savings. To aid in the nutritional program, one can use NIR technology to determine phytate levels built off of a large and robust database from different parts of the world ensuring a reliable prediction. NIR enables the rapid analysis of a large volume of feedstuff samples at low cost.


Incremental gains using a phytase with a high binding affinity to phytate can either come from improved performance or reduced feed cost, depending on production goals. Performance benefits can be achieved by applying >1500 FTU/kg on top of a standard broiler diet (using a mineral matrix at 500 ftu/kg) with a typical 4 point improvement in FCR at market.

Or using the same phytase that can deliver consistent nutrient availability from maximum phytate breakdown, there is the potential to reduce feed cost per ton by up to $20/ton, depending on the feed formulation.

Phytate is an important anti-nutrient present in all plant-based ingredients, and affects animal performance. Inclusion of a phytase with a high binding affinity for phytate can reduce the concentration of phytate in the gut, releasing phosphorus and other dietary nutrients leading to a significant release of inositol which can improve animal performance or help reduce feed costs.

In order to explore the potential feed cost savings and/or performance improvement, it is important to understand and evaluate the phytate concentration in feeds. As the phytate concentration is reduced in the gut releasing nutritional benefits, it is also important to ensure that the phytase chosen maintains its efficiency even when the phytate concentration is low and, possibly more important, when the phytase needs to break down the phytate-esters that are formed during the hydrolysis process.

Only by determining all these aspects will it be possible to obtain the incremental gains. Whether it’s from improved performance or reduced feed costs, they ultimately lead to more efficient and sustainable animal production.

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