Ammonia

The volatil­i­sa­tion of ammonia (NH3) is one of the most impor­tant causes for the loss of nitro­gen (N) in soil-plant systems world­wide. Nitro­gen does not remain in the air, but returns to the soil through the rain, which in turn leads to the for­ma­tion of highly climate-dam­ag­ing nitrous oxide emis­sions, the acid­i­fi­ca­tion of soils and the accu­mu­la­tion of nitro­gen in water.

The large-scale release of harmful ammonia emis­sions occurs above all in agri­cul­ture. It is caused by the micro­bial decom­po­si­tion of animal excre­ments in barns and fields when liquid manure is used as fer­tilis­er. The pungent smelling gas is not only harmful to the envi­ron­ment, but is also harmful to the animals in the stable, as it irri­tates their mucous mem­branes, attacks the lungs, weakens the immune system and even accu­mu­lates in the blood of the animals (see Schmidt 2012, Ithaka Insti­tute).

If biochar is used as a litter and feed addi­tive, nitro­gen losses can be sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced. Biochar can absorb up to 5 times its own weight in water and binds toxins and nutri­ents very effi­cient­ly. The nitro­gen binding and the con­tin­u­ous drying of the bedding deprives the microor­gan­isms of their nutri­ent basis and thus reduces the toxic ammonia evap­o­ra­tion (see Schmidt 2012, Ithaka Insti­tute).

Antibi­otics

Accord­ing to the Federal Office for Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion and Food Safety (BVL), around 700 tonnes of antibi­otics were deliv­ered to vet­eri­nar­i­ans in 2016. This means that although the amount of antibi­otics used in the stables has con­tin­ued to decline, it is still far too high. The World Health Organ­i­sa­tion has been warning for years of the great danger posed by the emer­gence of antibi­ot­ic-resis­tant germs, which can no longer be effec­tive­ly treated.

The use of antibi­otics in stables can be sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced with biochar. Biochar as a feed addi­tive pro­motes diges­tion, improves feed effi­cien­cy and binds toxins (see Gerlach 2012, Ithaka Insti­tute). This alone improves health, activ­i­ty and well-being of the animals. In addi­tion, the risk of infec­tion for path­o­gen­ic microor­gan­isms is reduced and the immune system of the animals is sta­bilised.

Researchers also found that biochar, like antibi­otics, can sup­press the growth of unde­sir­able bac­te­ria such as coli bac­te­ria or sal­mo­nel­la (see Schmidt 2016, Ithaka Journal). In com­par­i­son to treat­ment with antibi­otics, feeding with biochar also led to a sig­nif­i­cant­ly higher number of useful intesti­nal bac­te­ria and lac­to­bacil­li. It can there­fore be said: Biochar will never be able to replace antibi­otics, but can help to prevent the use of essen­tial drugs in the first place.

Methane

Accord­ing to the Federal Envi­ron­ment Agency, methane (CH4) is 25 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide (CO2). Just like all other green­house gases, methane reflects the heat reflect­ed from the earth’s surface and pre­vents it from escap­ing into space. The heat is released back into the earth.

More than one third of the world’s output comes direct­ly or indi­rect­ly from live­stock farming, mainly from the inten­sive live­stock farming of cattle and sheep. As rumi­nants, they produce large quan­ti­ties of methane in their stom­achs during diges­tion and release it again by “burping and farting”. In addi­tion, methane is released as fer­til­iz­er in agri­cul­ture through waste­water and sewage sludge treat­ment and the appli­ca­tion of sewage sludge.

Here too, the admin­is­tra­tion of biochar as a feed addi­tive can reduce methane emis­sions (see, for example, Schmidt 2016, Ithaka Journal). Biochar has an adsorb­ing effect in the diges­tive tract of animals, i.e. it binds nutri­ents and toxins very effi­cient­ly. In animal hus­bandry it has there­fore been known for cen­turies as an emer­gency treat­ment for indi­ges­tion and poi­son­ing and is used there as a non-digestible carrier. In the animals’ diges­tive tract, however, biochar not only has a detox­i­fy­ing effect, but also increas­es feed effi­cien­cy through its electro-bio­chem­i­cal inter­ac­tion and reduces methane for­ma­tion through nitro­gen binding.

Recent con­tri­bu­tions on animal well-being

Biomass farm: Relaunch of an ancient idea

Bio­masse­hof Allgäu doc­u­ments the impact of biochar on animal health, stable climate and manure on two model farms. In addi­tion, the coop­er­a­tive based in Allgäu now also trades in CO2 cer­tifi­cates and advises farmers on how to use biochar…

In the horse stable: Biochar instead of wood chips

A horse owner from Baden-Würt­tem­berg in south­west Germany sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly con­vert­ed his bedding system from straw and sawdust to green waste compost with biochar. He ini­tial­ly faced crit­i­cism for the deci­sion, but mean­while many are fol­low­ing…

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