Enzymes in Animal Nutrition

Improving Feedstuffs: Enzymes in Farm Animal Nutrition 1

The cost of providing animal feed to livestock and poultry accounts for 60-70 percent of the total outlay of running a livestock or poultry business. Reducing this expense has been the goal for generations of farmers. Use of enzymes in animal feed make this goal a reality, and modern farmers have achieved phenomenal gains in the efficient and economical production of livestock.

The use of enzymes in farm animal nutrition has been an important part of achieving this success while maximizing the health of the animals and minimizing the impact on the environment.

What Is an Enzyme and Why Do Farm Animals Need Them?

Enzymes are proteins that assist chemical reactions in the body. Although livestock’s gut microflora produce some enzymes, they do not all the enzymes in sufficient quantities to hydrolyze NSP, proteins or phytates to enable absorption of all nutrients.

What is Enzyme Supplementation?

Enzyme supplementation improves the quality of feedstuffs and livestock, resulting in higher profit margins. Enzyme addition helps to produce more meat per animal at a much lower cost while improving the overall long-term health of the herd. Vet costs and mortality rates also decline with the use of enzyme supplements in animal feed.

Enzymes come from a variety of natural sources, including plant extracts, animals, and microorganisms. Enzymes are widely used by the agricultural, brewing, biofuel, dairy, and rubber industries to boost production and minimize costs.

History of Enzyme Use in Animal Feed

The agricultural industry began using enzymes in the 1920s. Dr. James Sumner purified the first enzyme in 1924. During the 1950s, scientists in the United States started research into the beneficial effects of adding enzymes to animal feed. In the 1970s, an investigation into the use of phytase to improve the uptake of phosphorus from dietary plant ingredients began.

But it was not until the 1990s that phytase and non-starch polysaccharide degrading enzymes (NSPase) could be produced in sufficient quantities to make it commercially viable.

During the past 30 years, advances in the understanding of the chemical & metabolic processes associated with specific substrates in feed ingredients have permitted companies to produce enzymes targeting these individual substrates.

Fermentation and microbiological technologies, including processes to stabilize enzymes during mass production, have also assisted in the development and production of quality enzyme products for feedstuffs.

Innovations in agricultural science have fundamentally improved the production process of meat and eggs through the addition of supplementary enzymes to animal diets.

Enzymes in Chicken Feed

Basic Functions of the First Feed Enzymes

The first enzymes used in feedstuff were arabinoxylanases and beta glucanases. These enzymes were used to degrade the fibrous portions of grains, making them more digestible and allowing for greater uptake of vital nutrients in the gut.

Since then, enzyme technology has enabled swine and poultry to extract nutrients from their feed easily, allowing them to make more efficient use of the feed and improving their overall health.

Characteristics of Enzymes

Enzymes are biological catalysts that accelerate chemical reactions. They are proteins, with complex structures that allow them to remain stable during the high temperatures necessary for feed manufacture, and while moving through the animal’s gastrointestinal tract.

One of the most important characteristics of the enzyme is its ability to break down specific substrates in precise reaction sites. The exact enzymes used in the enrichment of feedstuffs are purposefully selected to target distinct substrates used in that feed.

Enzymes will only react under certain conditions. The moisture content, quantity of enzymes used, temperature, and pH levels during use must meet the enzymes’ specific reactive requirements for them to function effectively.

Under favorable conditions, a greater concentration of the enzyme will result in a faster rate of reaction.

Poultry and Swine Feed

Corn and soybean meal are the major feed ingredients used for poultry and swine diet. However, the mature animalscan’t digest 12-15 percent of this diet. This percentage is even greater in young animals, who are unable to produce the necessary enzymes in their guts to digest feed properly.

Enzymes in Swine Feed

The effects of undigested feed include stomach irritation, diarrhea, increased undigested waste production and higher mortality rates. Sometimes price fluctuations necessitate the use of feeds that might result in an even greater percentage of undigested feed, which further harms the cost efficiency of production.

Approaches for Enzyme Use

Enzymes can be added to animal diets to improve the efficacy of digestion, particularly in younger and weaning animals. Each type of enzyme has a particular role in the body.

These enzymes target specific substrates in the animal’s diet, where they break down complex indigestible molecules into their simpler forms.  This means the previously indigestible material can now be broken down efficiently and utilized by the gut, allowing the animal to absorb and benefit from vital nutrients.

Benefits of Enzymes

The use of enzymes in animal feed has several health, environmental, and economic benefits.

By increasing the absorption rate of nutrients in the gut, enzyme supplements are an effective way of promoting general good health among livestock. Animals will remain healthier for longer, since more efficient absorption of nutrients from their feed helps to promote enteric health and inhibit the growth of disease-causing bacteria.  This can reduce the incidence of disease and illness among animals, cutting veterinary costs and improving overall efficiency.

Benefits of Enzymes in Animal Feed

Enzymes are also an effective way of aiding the weaning process for young animals, as those below a certain age lack the full complement of enzymes required for effective digestion. Their inability to completely digest a non-milk diet often leads to gastrointestinal problems and an elevated mortality rate, both of which can be avoided with the addition of enzymes to their diet.

When added to the diet of hens, enzyme supplements were found to boost not only weight gain and health, but also to increase egg production. By increasing the volume of meat or eggs produced by individual livestock, enzyme supplements can improve profits significantly.

Using enzymes in animal feed also benefits the environment. Animals that can properly digest a larger percentage of their feed thus producing less manure, which contains smaller quantities of phosphorus and nitrogen. Such compounds have a deleterious effect on the environment.

How to Use Enzymes in Feed

There are two ways of using enzymes to improve the efficiency of animal feed. First, you can use them to reformulate the feed, reducing costs. By using higher fiber by-products than is possible without enzymes, you can replace some of the wheat, corn, or barley in the animal’s diet and reduce the fat level.

Secondly, one can add enzymes directly to feed and produce more meat or eggs, thus significantly saving poultry manufacturing cost.

Types of Enzymes for Animal Feed

Animal feed enzymes can break down NSP’s (starch, fiber), protein, and phytate.

Animal Feed Enzymes


The inefficient use of starch is particularly noticeable in weaned piglets. Healthy growth rates suffer due to the piglets’ inability to fully digest the carbohydrate in maize or corn, which is the most common form of feed.

Adding enzymes helps to more rapidly break down the starch in the piglets’ immature small intestine, allowing a greater proportion of nutrients to enter the pig’s system.


Monogastrics, or animals with a single-chambered stomach, can’t digest fiber. Fiber is a good source of hemicellulose complex but is not digestible by the animals.  Pigs and poultry naturally make inefficient use of fibrous foodstuffs, such as wheat, rye, or barley meal. Hemicellulose in indigestible fiber disrupts their ability to absorb nutrients from their feed, which can inhibit growth and lead to poor health.

Adding enzymes to high-fiber feed improves its nutritional value, helping the animal to grow quickly and reducing digestive health issues.


Many young monogastrics can’t utilize the substantial amounts of protein found in soybean and other such foodstuffs. Many of the typical feedstuffs used also contain anti-nutritional factors (ANF’s) that not only impede the absorption of nutrients but can damage the interior of the gastrointestinal walls.

Supplementing feed with enzyme products will help the animal to hydrolase the protein to peptides and amino acids thus improving absorption and neutralize the effects of ANFs.


Phytic acid locks up the phosphorus in feed, reducing the digestible phosphorus for an animal by 60-70 percent. Farmers and breeders must add phosphorus to feed to ensure proper nutrition during the lifecycle of swine and poultry.

Adding a phytase enzyme to feed will unlock the phosphorus from phytic acid, allowing the animal to absorb a higher percentage of the phosphorus in the feed.

Reducing waste products containing phosphorus is also better for the environment. Phosphorus contained in animal waste ultimately leaches into groundwater, lakes, and streams. Algae thrive on phosphorus and proliferate in its presence, which depletes the amount of oxygen in the water, killing other plants and threatening the local ecosystem.

Chickens in Field

Focus on Poultry

The poultry industry was one of the first to embrace enzyme feed usage. The poultry sector adapts quickly to modern technologies. Most poultry feeds used in the industry have enzymes added to improve their digestibility and increase nutrient uptake.

Three Classes of Enzymes in Poultry Feed

Poultry feed can contain three classes of enzymes: phytases, carbohydrases, and proteases.


In animal feeds, exogenous phytases becomes a critical additive. Monogastric animals such as swine and poultry have intestinal microorganisms that produce phytases, However, these microorganisms reside in the large intestine, where very little phosphorus can be absorbed.

Chickens Eating Enzyme Enhanced FoodCarbohydrase

Carbohydrase enzymes degrade starch, releasing the molecules that form a usable source of energy for the animal. Like phytase, carbohydrase quickly proved effective and popular as a feed additive. Two of the most commonly used carbohydrase enzymes are the amylase and xylanase enzymes.

Using carbohydrases dramatically improves the digestibility of carbohydrates in animal feed.



Protease catalyzes the digestion of protein, quickly breaking it down into usable nutrients once ingested by the animal. It is instrumental as an additive to soybean meal.

In poultry farming, amylase, xylanase, and protease are often combined to improve egg production and growth.

Feedstuffs Enzymes for Aquaculture, Ruminants, Poultry/Swine, and Single Enzymes

Depending on your need, several excellent enzyme additions can significantly improve your profitability, depending on your industry:


Developing inexpensive feeds for the ever-increasing growth of the aquaculture industry has become a necessity if participants want to remain profitable. In addition to improving nutritional absorption, reducing nitrogen and phosphate pollution from excreta has become an important goal for the aquaculture industry.

Plant-based feed, the standard type for aquaculture, contains naturally-occurring phosphorus that is essential for fish growth. The ideal fish diet requires the absorption of between 0.4 percent and 0.9 percent of the phosphorus contained in one serving of feed for growth and good health. The binding action of phytate inhibits the release of phosphorus, limiting the absorption of the nutrient in the digestive tract, so it is excreted instead.

Happy Healthy Pigs

Use of the phytase enzyme effectively addresses this issue, so more phosphorus is absorbed. Similarly, the

carbohydrase enzyme improves carbohydrate and fiber digestion in fish, and proteases help break down hydrolyze proteins into smaller peptides and amino acids so the fish may use them.

AquaSEB SWP is a combination of enzymes and microbes that works well to help improve the health of farm-grown fish, shrimp, prawns, and mollusks, as well as that of the surrounding environment.

AquaTrenz product also combines enzymes with microbes to increase the nutritional absorption rates of fish, minimizing mortality rates and decreasing stress.


Enzymes for ruminants primarily act in the rumen chamber of the animal, essentially a large fermentation vat where bacteria and microorganisms break down food. Enzymes added to the feed of ruminants reduce the amount of energy required for digestion.

This can also improve digestion and overall health, allowing you to improve or maintain ruminant performance with less dry matter intake.

Many enzymes work together to break down carbohydrates, so you must carefully select the right product. Liquicell AF is a combination of enzymes that will significantly improve digestion of silage based feeds by maximizing the breakdown of carbohydrates, and hence digestibility of the feedstuffs.

For increased milk production and body weight, BoviSEB, a fermentation extract, provides a large quantity of amino acids, protein, minerals, and vitamins to supplement the Liquicell AF effect.


Chicken and Pig


Poultry and Swine

Enzyme Blends

We offer two enzyme blends made specifically for poultry and swine nutrition: DigeGrain Delta and DigeGrain Super. These blends specifically target the digestive needs of poultry and pigs to increase nutrient use significantly.

Single Enzymes

You can also find an excellent selection of individual enzymes to improve the performance of your poultry and swine feedstuffs. For example, DigeGrain C, a cellulase complex, breaks down the plant cell walls in fibrous feedstuffs. The DigeGrain M with Mannanase will help with nutrient absorption, gut health, and overall utilization of feed. DigeGrain Pro with an endoprotease complements digestive activity, resulting in more peptides and amino acids from larger proteins and unlocking the nutritional value from feed. The selection of specific enzyme will depend on the type and age of the animal being fed.  

The Future of Enzyme Additives

Research into enzyme additives for feedstuffs continues, as their potential commercial value is significant. One focus of current studies is to develop an effective working cellulase that can break down copious quantities of cellulose quickly and efficiently.

Pectin, a group of fibers, is another area of research that could yield excellent commercial results with the development of an efficient enzyme.

The Future of Enzyme Technology

Last Word

Technological advances in the field of biochemistry have made available for mass production and sale many enzymes that were formerly unsuitable for commercial use due to high production costs.

Using enzyme supplements offers protection from commodity fluctuations that can significantly increase feed costs, which can turn what should have been a profitable year into a loss.

One Comment

  1. This was so helpful…thumbs up😌👍

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