Since the introduction of phytase, an enzyme that makes phosphorous in grain more available to poultry, to poultry diets in Virginia almost 10 years ago, the industry has reduced the amount of phosphorous in poultry litter by 20 percent, according to Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Federation. “The state is interested in seeing greater reduction as evidenced by the 30 percent goal, and we as an industry are willing to work with them to achieve that,” Bauhan said.

Phosphorous is a vital nutrient for all living things and it is a major component of bone. Much of the phosphorous found in cereal grains is bound up in organic molecules which birds cannot break down. Traditionally, poultry rations have been supplemented with inorganic phosphorous or readily digestible organic forms like meat and bone meal. Phytase enzymes help to free phosphorous bound up in the cereal grains in the birds’ diet and reduce the need for phosphorous supplementation.

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Virginia poultry operations are located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and federal and state governments have been working with inudstries and municipalities to try and lower the amount of phosphorous that reaches the bay. Achieving the 30 percent reduction in phosphorous in poultry litter will require Virginia poultry companies to carefully and effectively add phytases to the diet so that the birds will perform with a reduced level of phosphorous supplementation to the diet.