CCM for Animals
Use of biochar as feed supplements for animal farming
The production and application of biochar has become increasingly popular in the past 10 years. Biochar is derived from organic carbon-rich materials and is produced by pyrolysis. There are major studies related to the use of biochar as a feed additive for ruminants (cattle and goats), pigs, poultry (chickens and ducks) and fish. Documented positive responses to biochar supplementation include improved growth performance, blood profiles, egg yield, ability to resist pathogens including gut pathogenic bacteria and a reduction of methane production by ruminant animals. In addition, the high sorption capacity of biochar efficiently aids the removal of pollutants and toxins from animals’ bodies as well as from farm environments. It is expected that there will be increasing use of biochar in animal farming.
The use of biochar in animal feeding
Biochar, that is, carbonized biomass similar to charcoal, has been used in acute medical treatment of animals for many centuries. Since 2010, livestock farmers increasingly use biochar as a regular feed supplement to improve animal health, increase nutrient intake efficiency and thus productivity. As biochar gets enriched with nitrogen-rich organic compounds during the digestion process, the excreted biochar-manure becomes a more valuable organic fertilizer causing lower nutrient losses and greenhouse gas emissions during storage and soil application. Scientists only recently started to investigate the mechanisms of biochar in the different stages of animal digestion and thus most published results on biochar feeding are based so far on empirical studies. A review summarizes the state of knowledge up to the year 2019 by evaluating 112 relevant scientific publications on the topic to derive initial insights, discuss potential mechanisms behind observations and identify important knowledge gaps and future research needs. The literature analysis shows that in most studies and for all investigated farm animal species, positive effects on different parameters such as toxin adsorption, digestion, blood values, feed efficiency, meat quality and/or greenhouse gas emissions could be found when biochar was added to feed. The review demonstrates that the use of biochar as a feed additive has the potential to improve animal health, feed efficiency and livestock housing climate, to reduce nutrient losses and greenhouse gas emissions, and to increase the soil organic matter content and thus soil fertility when eventually applied to soil. In combination with other good practices, co-feeding of biochar may thus have the potential to improve the sustainability of animal husbandry.
WA farmer uses beetle and charcoal to combat climate change
A pioneering West Australian farmer is combining cattle manure, exotic dung beetles, and biochar to help combat the effects of climate change as well as tackling soil health issues.
Doug Pow has developed the strategy to capture carbon, improve soil fertility, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions on his cattle property near Manjimup in WA's South West region.
Mr Pow uses biochar, which is essentially charcoal added to soils, to improve fertility.
Biochar is mixed with molasses and fed to Mr Pow's cattle, then dung beetles take the biochar-infused manure into the soil to feed their larvae beneath the surface.
Mr Pow said his innovative farming system could help livestock producers become more profitable while helping to address the impact of climate change.
"It's of benefit to the soil, of benefit to the atmosphere and, really, of benefit to the animals as well," he said.
WA farmer Doug Pow feeds biochar to his cattle, and uses dung beetles to work the resultant manure into the soil
He says it reduces greenhouse gases, while improving soil fertility as well as the health of his cattle
A CSIRO scientist also says there's on-farm evidence that liveweight gain is improved if biochar is fed to Angus-cross cattle