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  • Real Pork Trust Consortium

Improving Phosphorus Digestibility and Use in Pig Diets

Dr. Nicholas Gabler, a Professor in Swine Nutrition in the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University, summarized this 2020 peer-reviewed journal article by Pia Rosenfelder-Kuon and colleagues at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany. This analysis of data from previous experiments explains how researchers are seeking to provide pigs with the nutrients they need while solving the problem of the difficult-to-digest compound phytate.

Major Finding

Phosphorus is an essential mineral for pigs, playing vital roles in bone formation, energy metabolism, and cellular function. Pigs require phosphorus in their diets to support growth, development, and overall health. In pig nutrition, phosphorus is typically provided through feed via mineral supplements and plant-based ingredients. However, the phosphorus in plant-based ingredients is often bound to phytate, which is difficult for animals to digest and absorb in monogastric species such as pigs unless an enzyme called phytase is used to help break down the phytate.

A healthy diet including phosphorus can help pigs' bone formation. Two unhealthy bones are on the left and middle. A healthy bone is on the right.
Phosphorus plays a crucial role in bone formation in pigs. Unhealthy bones (left and middle) are compared to a healthy bone (right). Swine nutrition researchers search for ways to increase phosphorus uptake in pigs.

This meta-analysis study found that adding phytase to feed made it easier for pigs to digest phosphorus, increasing digestion by 26% to 65%. The amount of digestible phosphorus in the feed also increased from 1.0 grams per kilogram to 2.6 grams per kilogram when phytase was added. They also found that the type of feed, how often the animals were fed, what they were fed, sex, and age didn't significantly affect how well the phytase worked. However, they couldn't figure out how the total amount of phosphorus in the diet or certain compounds influenced the effectiveness of the phytase. Despite differences in how pigs digest phosphorus, they could still predict how well the phytase would work.


Why It Matters

Phytase is an enzyme commonly used in pig nutrition to enhance the digestibility and nutritional uptake of phosphorus in feed. Phytase breaks down phytate in the pig's digestive system, releasing the bound phosphorus and making it more available for absorption in the body, reducing the need for supplemental inorganic phosphorus sources in the diet. This reduces the amount of phosphorous excreted into the environment while supporting better growth rates for pigs, how efficiently their bodies use their feed, and overall pig health.

Three piles of substances including phytase, monocalcium phosphate, and limestone
Phytase (left) is an enzyme added to pig feed to help increase phosphorus uptake and enhance digestibility.


How the Research Was Conducted:

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis that compiled data from 88 experiments published in 74 peer-reviewed papers between 2007 and 2019. Different statistical models were used to describe the response of phosphorus digestibility to phytase supplementation.


Learn More

To learn more about how researchers are enhancing nutrition and improving digestion to improve pig health, read the full peer-reviewed journal article.

Phosphorus Digestibility and Use in Pig Diets
Download PDF • 234KB


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