However, driven by the numerous studies on phosphorus (P) digestibility and phytase efficacy, Ca requirements have gained increasing interest. In particular, the question is raised whether we should also formulate feed using a digestible Ca value for feedstuffs.
Calcium as an anti-nutrient
Research from recent years has indicated that oversupplying Ca can negatively affect animal performance:
- Limestone is a buffering substance and hinders sufficient acidification of the feed in the gizzard
- An excess of dietary limestone reduces feed intake
- Ca exerts a negative effect on the tight junctions, reducing gut integrity
- Excess Ca reduces P digestibility of feeds
Ca inhibits the phytate-degrading ability of a phytase
Dietary Ca forms complexes with phytate that can remain insoluble at high pH levels. These precipitated phytate-Ca complexes (Figure 1) are not available to the phytase for hydrolysis, thereby reducing the P digestibility of the feed.
The speed of limestone solubilization will dictate the concentration of Ca available to chelate with the phytate. Fine limestone is more soluble than coarse limestone, meaning it will bind faster to phytate, and therefore has a stronger negative impact on P digestibility. Using coarser limestone sources with lower Ca solubility gives the phytase more time to reach the phytate molecule before it is complexed by Ca (Figure 2).
Ca and P need to be in balance
Absorbed P can only be retained in the bones when there is enough Ca present in the blood. At low Ca levels, P digestibility can be improved, but P retention will remain low due to insufficient Ca in the blood. A deficiency in Ca can therefore cause poor bone mineralisation, even when P digestibility is high.
In contrast, an excess of Ca will further decrease P digestibility (Figure 3). Therefore, dosing a phytase at higher levels (1,000 FTU/kg or more) is the best way to counterbalance excessively high dietary levels of Ca without causing any obvious adverse effects on broiler performance or bone mineralisation.
Formulating with digestible Ca for a limestone is not that straightforward
Published data on the digestibility of Ca has only appeared in recent years and are sometimes contradictory. There is a high variability in compiled data on the Ca digestibility of limestone, from as high as 84% standardized ileal digestibility of Ca, to below 40%. Calcium digestibility in broilers can vary dramatically depending on such factors as particle size, acid solubility of limestone, geology, hardness, and mine source. It is therefore not always straightforward to attach a digestible Ca value to limestone.
Formulating with analyzable Ca
Based on the above, it might still be advisable to formulate on analyzable Ca, which is Ca that can be measured by lab analysis and does not contain the theoretical Ca matrix value of a phytase.
The necessary levels of analyzable Ca in feeds for different species is difficult to establish due to the highly variable digestibility of the Ca sources. Therefore, it is better to require a minimum analyzable Ca level in the feed during formulation, where Ca requirements can be adjusted by the nutritionist depending on the Ca source:
- Increasing requirements when using fine limestone (due to its high solubility)
- Decreasing requirements when using coarse limestone (which is less soluble)
- Making adjustments depending on the minimum P requirements imposed in the formula
Please consult with your local Huvepharma contact or the local Huvepharma distributor for more information on this subject.