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).
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.
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
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…
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…
Moist bedding and corrosive ammonia vapours often lead to inflammatory footpad lesions in poultry. The Chamber of Agriculture of Lower Saxony has therefore had biochar tested as a litter additive and speaks of impressive results…
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