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I have no scientific data to add even to this summary, but I do have a lot of practical experience with using biochar as an animal feed additive. Our experience has been with chickens, cows and pigs, all distinguished by their complex and multi-step digestive systems and their propensity to fall ill with intestinal diseases of all sorts. We have found that the regular addition of small amounts of char - less than 3% and as little as 1% - has a remarkable impact. It dramatically reduces the rates of infection in enclosures and results in striking weight gain. The article suggests that the actual pathway is unclear. I have always speculated to farmers that weight gain results from better health and less intestinal upset, but as I noted, I am not a scientist.
(Recently, a vet we are working with in Africa reported that adding biochar to his cows' diet decreased illnesses and increased milk production per cow from 8 to 15 liters.)
There are several tangentially related benefits that we have observed that are worth noting. Adding biochar to the bedding in hen houses seems to reduce the incidence of pecking and certainly reduces the stink. We think that stink is not just a matter of a weak nose, but also one of husbandry. Biochar fed to farm animals and spread in barns and wallows can all but eliminate smells, especially if these spaces are also sprayed with EM. Smell reduction reduces the fly population almost to zero. Without flies, a major disease vector is eliminated keeping animals and farmers safer.
Finally, if you own a small farm and need to pinch pennies, it is quite easy to make your own feed supplements. Start with biochar and add, for example, egg shells (not for chickens), molasses, iodized salt, and dicalciumphosphate (a cheap and readily available fertilizer). For cows, you can mix a big batch and leave it in a sheltered trough by a watering point. If you are doing controlled feeding, dole it out in say 400 gram lots (provided that that serving size encompasses the nutrients you require). (A great source if you start down this path is the Foodopia website which contains a wealth of information about everything your animals might ever eat.)
Authors: Hans-Peter Schmidt, Nikolas Hagemann, Kathleen Draper, Claudia Kammann
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. This 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. A considerable number of studies provided statistically non-significant results, though tendencies were mostly positive.. Rare negative effects were identified in regard to the immobilization of liposoluble feed ingredients (e.g., vitamin E or Carotenoids) which may limit long-term biochar feeding. We found that most of the studies did not systematically investigate biochar properties (which may vastly differ) and dosage, which is a major drawback for generalizing results. Our 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. However, more systematic multi-disciplinary research is definitely needed to arrive at generalizable recommendations.
International Biochar Initiative