Phytase superdosing: Key to consistent poultry performance

Published Monday, 30th October 2023

Maximising farm profitability is an ongoing challenge for poultry producers, not helped by the continuing volatility in raw material prices and energy costs. Achieving optimal performance from your flock is therefore essential. Key to any strategy should be ensuring the most cost-effective and efficient feed to produce the best yield.

By using targeted feed enzymes, producers can get more from less when it comes to animal feed. Feed enzymes ensure the correct nutritional balance in the diet and can increase the amount of nutrients digested and absorbed by the animals, contributing to better performance.

One of the most widely used feed enzymes, phytase helps to maximise animals’ nutrient absorption, and provides physiological and environmental benefits. Phytase is an essential enzyme for monogastric livestock feed, because it is needed to break down phytate (the primary source of phosphorous in most plant-based feed materials) and improve the digestibility of phosphorous.

Today, phytase is predominantly used to spare (breakdown) nutrients and reduce feed formulation costs. However, when used to its maximum effect, the benefits of phytase can go far beyond that, and provide positive post-digestion and metabolic well-being effects, in addition to the nutritional benefits.

This often-untapped potential can be unlocked by ‘superdosing’, which is using much higher doses of phytase in feed to lower the anti-nutritional effects of phytate on animals even further. Here we look at three key benefits of superdosing with phytase.

1. Achieve more cost savings

Traditionally, phytases have been used to spare nutrients and reduce feed costs. Phytase reduces phosphorus pollution and provides a cheaper source of inorganic phosphorus, calcium and sodium. On average, producers use approximately 500-750 phytase units per kg (FTU/kg) of feed.

However, producers may not be achieving optimum cost savings if the amount of nutrients spared is less than the cost of the additional phytase added on. Increasing phytase levels up to 1,500 FTU/kg feed can offer a greater economic return, for example – achieving savings over and above the cost of the extra phytase. This is because of the value of the additional nutrients that higher levels can spare, thus unlocking greater animal performance.

2. Greater nutrient sparing

Naturally, monogastric animals such as poultry and pigs are limited in their ability to break down phytate, as they only have very low levels of intestinal phytase. This prevents them from utilising most of the phosphorus found in plant-based feed ingredients. Inorganic phosphate supplements are therefore needed to provide this nutrient and satisfy their diet and growth requirements, as well as reduce waste. Unfortunately, phosphate supplementation is not cheap, which then raises feed costs and increases phosphorus pollution.

Phytase attacks phytic acid (inositol hexaphosphate, or IP6) and sequentially reduces that down to IP5, IP4, IP3, IP2 and, finally, IP1. IP1 is ultimately then reduced to inositol, which is essential in animal nutrition; it plays a key role in cell survival and growth, central nervous system development and function, bone structure and formation, metabolism and reproduction.

Research has shown that it is not just phytate (IP6) that has anti-nutrient effects in the animal, but also the breakdown products of phytate (IP5, IP4, IP3, IP2 – known as lower phytate esters). Therefore, the more esters that can be removed, the more anti-nutritive components from the diet are removed, to the benefit of the animal.

By superdosing feed with phytase, you can prevent the build-up of lower phytate esters, such as IP4 and IP3, in the gut of the animal. So, the more phytase you use, the more IP6-IP2 you get rid of, and consequently the fewer anti-nutrients there are. This means the birds can perform better, and more consistently.

Superdosing, even as much as 3000FTU, can therefore deliver strong economic returns because it promotes consistently good performance in the animals. Moreover, it is particularly beneficial in poor performing flocks (as these are the birds that respond best to enzymes, including phytases) by getting rid of performance-inhibiting phytic acid. Animals that perform consistently well will produce a consistent supply of good quality eggs and meat.

3. Metabolic well-being

The almost complete phytate degradation with the help of phytase allows more inositol to be produced. As well as its role in many metabolic processes, it has recently been shown to correlate with the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, as it is the precursor of an essential haemoglobin modulator in birds, IP5.

This helps to reduce incidences of woody breast, a condition which occurs due to impaired blood flow and poor oxygen supply to the tips of the chicken breast. This results in a poorer quality meat that is hard and opaque looking. This condition can be reduced by using very high levels of phytase, as it unlocks the levels of inositol required to elevate red cell haemoglobin IP5 levels which brings oxygen to these anoxic tissues and thus reduce occurrence of woody breast.

In addition, superdosing could also be effective in addressing other metabolic syndromes seen in poultry where oxygen starvation is playing a role. For example, work under way suggests high levels of phytase can help alleviate problems such as femoral head necrosis.

Maximising phytate breakdown

There are currently several phytases on the market, each differing in their ability to hydrolyse phytate. Some only support phytate degradation to a certain level, and producers could be wasting 60% of the value within and bound to phytate by applying low levels of a sub-optimal phytase.

Quantum Blue can go further and almost completely and efficiently degrade phytate and the lower phytate esters, while releasing significantly more phosphorus and inositol.

Due to its high affinity for phytate, it works with the animals to unlock all six phosphorus molecules. By maximising phytate breakdown, it releases inositol and liberates valuable nutrients needed by the animal. Consequently, this offers performance benefits and feed costs savings, as it reduces the need for expensive ingredients by utilising every nutritional element of phytate. Moreover, Quantum Blue is intrinsically thermostable, has a sustained gastric performance, is efficient at low PH and helps with recovery and dispersion in feed.


With superdosing, the use of phytase can go beyond the welcome benefits of increased nutrient sparing to also support better post-digestion and metabolic well-being and promote consistent poultry performance.

Early evidence showed that much higher doses of phytase bring performance benefits related to increased energy and amino acids, and more recent data suggests that further benefits accrue from almost complete phytate degradation due to the production of significant quantities of IP1 and subsequent dephosphorylation to inositol.

Recent research also has found that superdosing helps ensure consistent poultry performance – which is key to maintaining flock health and productivity, a good food supply and overall farm profitability. It is therefore recommended that farmers use as much phytase as they can afford, to tap into the considerable potential that phytase can offer.

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