A new approach to nutrient management

There are benefits to using biochar in your livestock system.

While biochar has been traditionally known as being beneficial for soils, there is an increasing trend toward using biochar as a feed supplement in livestock. Biochar is also being used for other animal husbandry applications such as a bedding material. The evidence, both anecdotal and scientific demonstrates that these practices have many benefits to livestock and soil health.


Dung Beetles Rolling Manure and Biochar Ball

Biochar and Dung Beetles – A Holistic Approach

Doug Pow, a farmer from Manjimup, Western Australia has been feeding his cattle about 300g/hd/day of biochar for a number of years. He has also introduced dung beetles onto his farm and has found that this system is not only improving cattle health and soil fertility but his overall profitability. Once used to it, the cattle happily feed on biochar on an ad lib basis. As it passes through the gut the biochar gets “activated” and once manured out the dung beetles take over, burying the biochar rich manure up to 60cm under the soil.

Doug has found that he is drenching less and his pastures are a lot healthier to a point where he doesn’t need to supplementary feed during the summer. You can find more information on Doug’s activities in this article produced by WANTFA.

International Evidence

International evidence points to biochars highly adsorbent qualities suppressing intestinal pathogens, and improving gut health when used in feed formulas of cattle, poultry and other farm animals. The use of biochar has also been shown to increase feed efficiency and weight gain of animals.

The Ithaka Journal outlined a study where 21 farmers in Europe, each with an average herd size of 150 cows, were asked to give their impressions of the effects they had observed during and after the administration of biochar. Observations in the first 1-4 week included;

  • Improved health and appearance

  • Less hoof problems

  • Reduced diarrhea

  • Decline in mortality rates

  • Increase in milk fat/protein

  • Reduced manure odor

Feeding biochar to cattle

Biochar as a Bedding Material

Farms where animals are run intensively often have problems with manure management and these areas are a breeding ground for bacteria. Also, moisture, odors and toxic gases like ammonia are produced.

The characteristics of biochar and having the ability to absorb large amounts of moisture make it ideal as a bedding material. Used in litter, biochar locks in moisture, organic and inorganic nitrogen compounds. The nitrogen adsorption and the continuous drying of the litter deprive the microbial pathogens of their nutrient base and reduce toxic emissions of ammonia. After just a few days, a significant reduction in coop odor can be noticed (ref: Biochar Journal)

This practice has the additional benefit of pre-loading the biochar in the litter making it ideal a nutrient/carbon rich soil supplement after pyrolysis.

In Summary

The use of biochar as a feed supplement is an exciting development which has the potential to improve the health of cattle and other livestock, pasture production and the financial bottom line of farmers. There is also the opportunity to store carbon in the soil via the biochar/dung beetle system.

Obviously, you need to try it and see the benefits for yourself, if you are interested in learning more please contact us. Alternatively, if you are already feeding biochar to livestock we would love to hear about it and share information.

Further reading:

Feeding biochar to cows: An innovative solution for improving soil fertility and farm productivity