Biochar and Animal Husbandry - Part 3

This week’s Green Man’s Blog post continues on the topic of incorporating biochar into livestock management, in particular as a livestock feed supplement for goat and sheep and even aquaculture. This post touches on some of the key findings of current research presented by Schmidt et al. (2019) in an extensive review article on the topic of livestock feed supplementation with biochar. Previous posts in this series covered cattle, poultry and pig which can viewed here.

Biochar as feed supplement for goats

In an experiment supplementing basal diet of goats with 1% biochar was found to increase feed intake and feed conversion rates, with a 27% increase in daily weight gain over a 100-day trial period (study from Silivong and Preston, 2016).

Biochar was also attributed to a significant body weight increase in goats when fed at a rate of 1 gram of biochar per kilogram of animal body weight. The study also found to ease digestion particularly in protein rich feeds that were also high in tannin (study from Van et al., 2006).

Biochar in feed is shown to increase the weight of goats and improve milk products.

Biochar as a feed supplement in aquaculture

Biochar supplemented fish feed (at 0.5% of basal diet) was shown to significantly increase weight the gain of fish by 18% and led to an improvement in fishpond water with a significant >50% decrease in pond water nitrate levels (study from Thu et al., 2010). A separate study found that at 1% of feed supplementation, biochar made from wood increased growth rates by 44% and similarly observed improved fishpond water quality with marked reductions in ammonia, nitrite, phosphate and chemical oxygen demand (study from Lan et al., 2018).

Incorporating biochar into fish feed improves animal health and helps manage nutrient loads in tank water.

 This concludes the first part of the Green Man’s blog series of posts on the various uses biochar in animal husbandry. As can be seen, there is considerable measurable benefits from supplementing livestock feed with biochar either alone or in combination with other feed supplements. It is important to note that not all studies have reported the same significant improvements in animal weight gain and feed efficiency, and that the quality and type of biochar along with the feeding regime varies substantially. However, in most cases, a direct measurable improvement in animal health and productivity was observed in the studies covered and no negative health effects were reported. It is clear from the recent research that biochar supplemented animal feed results in an array of benefits to animal husbandry, including both the economic return of livestock, improved animal well-being and product quality, as well as enhanced efficiency and sustainability of livestock systems. These benefits along with the ease of implementing biochar into existing feed regimes positions biochar promising advancement in animal husbandry that is set to surge in popularity.

For the next part of this series of posts we will delve deeper into the mechanisms and interactions by which biochar improves the gut health and overall metabolism of livestock, as well as other direct uses and benefits of incorporating biochar in animal husbandry.


Further reading:

For further reading and links to individual studies, see the full review paper and references by Schmidt et al.:

Schmidt, H.P., Hagemann, N., Draper, K. and Kammann, C., 2019. The use of biochar in animal feeding. PeerJ, 7, p.e7373.

Studies covered:

Lan T, Preston T, Leng R. 2018. Feeding biochar or charcoal increased the growth rate of striped catfish (Pangasius hypophthalmus) and improved water quality.Livestock Research for Rural Development 28:Article #84.

Silivong P, Preston TR. 2016. Supplements of water spinach (Ipomoea aquatica) and biochar improved feed intake, digestibility, N retention and growth performance of goats fed foliage of Bauhinia acuminata as the basal diet. Livestock Research for Rural Development 28:Article #113.

Thu M, Koshio S, Ishikawa M, Yokoyama S. 2010. Effects of supplementation of dietary bamboo charcoal on growth performance and body composition of juvenile Japanese Flounder, Paralichthys olivaceus. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society41:255-262.

Van DTT, Mui NT, Ledin I. 2006. Effect of method of processing foliage of Acacia mangium and inclusion of bamboo charcoal in the diet on performance of growing goats. Animal feed science and technology 130(3–4):242-256.


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