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First impressions using biochar in coop litter

 
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I've been using a mixture of planer shavings and sawdust in my coop for quite some time, and it's a decent system. I give it the "sniff test" every week or so, and if there's an ammonia smell then that is my cue to either pile on another layer of shavings or scoop it all out and replace with fresh material. Since I've begun ramping up biochar production this summer with my volcano (a conical pit in a mound of subsoil left over from a mini pond excavation last winter), I've started looking for different ways to use and charge it before it becomes a soil additive. So about a week ago, when I noted that telltale aroma, I shoveled about a feed bag of fine biochar onto the litter and mixed it in.

After about two days, the odor dropped off. Now there's no discernible ammonia smell and (of course) there's another week's worth of deposits in there. So, I'm pretty sold on the ammonia neutralisation attributes of biochar in poultry litter management at this early stage. When I do scoop it all out, I'll bag it like I normally do, moisten it and let it sit for a couple of months before adding it to garden beds or digging in around the fruit trees.

I might try making some meal pellets with biochar added and feed that for a while to a few hens in a mobile tractor so that I can observe the results.
 
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Wouldn't biochar pellets just accumulate in the gullet (crop? croup? wherever the stones they swallow collect)? Or do you expect that the biochar would get ground down therein?

Fascinating idea. If the chicken gut microbiome is feeding the soil microbial life, any biochar that passes will hold with it living colonies of that microbiome. I would be careful not to give them too much, for fear of a microbial draw-down into the biochar that leaves their digestive systems at a loss. Other than that, I can't see why it would be bad.

In fact, I read in another thread that the ammonia is actually processed by bacteria colonising the biochar. There's apparently some adsorption onto the carbon itself, but the longer-term effect is bacterial, as otherwise the biochar would eventually run out of space for the ammonia.

Sounds sound. I love the volcano, by the way. I would love to see pics. Sounds like the Kon-Tiki cone retort.

In any case, keep us apprised, and good luck.

-CK
 
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hau Phil, I would do more research before adding charcoal to your chicken feed.
While there are things that such an addition would be helpful for, just doing it for an experiment can end up detrimental for your chooks.
There are already studies that show ingestion of charcoal can be beneficial to animals suffering gut issues such as sour stomach, etc.
There are also studies showing that too much or prolonged ingestion of charcoal is detrimental to gut and overall animal health.

Charcoal = burnt wood that has no living organisms occupying the voids in the cellular structure of the matrix.

Biochar = burnt wood that has become fully occupied by living microorganisms in the voids of the cellular structure thus usually referred to as "activated charcoal".

The above definitions are very important since to feed an animal, that isn't suffering any gut issues, biochar means you are introducing a specific microbiome into a healthy gut system.
This is how many diseases reproduce and spread in the real world; introduction of a hostile microbiome or single hostile microorganism into a gut system or other body system.

Redhawk
 
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I had problems with dust when I used charcoal in my coop to the point I stopped using it.  Now I use it in the litter when I am composting it.
 
Chris Kott
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Hau, kola Redhawk. I suppose I conflated the two, didn't I? Curious. I am usually the one correcting that particular slip.

I wonder if it would be possible to inoculate charcoal with bacteria specifically intended to act as a probiotic to the chickens' microbiome. What would happen if you made an EM solution, from, I don't know, probably some grain that makes up a large component of their diet? Wouldn't that likely increase their ability to effectively digest that component?

If that holds, could one tailor an EM recipe specifically for the diet of your own chooks? I mean, this kind of thing would require some level of comfort and competence with a microscope, but if the nutrient solution involved in the effective microbial preparation incorporated virtually all elements of the chickens' diets, would that not result in populations of local bacteria that like to digest those components?

-CK
 
Phil Stevens
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@Chris - If i mix char with feed, I'll use finely ground material. I expect, however, that a gizzard would be one if the best ways of grinding chunks to powder. Since I'm about to start producing larger quantities of char for some pilot testing in waterways, I'm looking for a grinding and grading method, and I'd love to have a giant chicken gizzard. Last weekend I tried a makeshift ball mill with a concrete mixer and a few steel balls and large river rocks. They just rolled around on the char and rounded off all the edges after a while. I'll start a new thread with volcano photos.

@Kola Redhawk - I'd definitely start with small amounts in an effort to keep internal biomes functioning. As to the naming, I appreciate the distinction. In an effort to evangelise biochar to the rest of the world, and especially the farming community in NZ, I have been using the term "biochar" to refer to well-pyrolised biomass from a variety of feedstocks. I distinguish the raw material from the inoculated stuff simply by describing it as inoculated or soil ready. This is kind of a tough one to figure out, because I know why you and others (including myself not too many months ago) are careful with terminology. I am currently working, via a number of avenues, to get biochar into the mainstream by proposing its application in several settings in my region as a water quality improvement tool. This means direct application of raw char in sediment traps and bunds, where its sorption attributes can reduce dissolved pollutants (especially nitrates) and then eventually be either retrieved and incorporated in soil, or left to serve as durable carbon in a wetland environment. There's a bit of buzz here associated with the word "biochar" now and since one of the things I'm promoting is the ability of farmers to use feedstocks that they grow, I've chosen to make raw vs inoculated the distinguishing factor.

@Trace - The material I put in the coop  was still damp from the quench process about a week prior. But when I got into a bag of the material that I made in the wood fire last winter I was reminded that a respirator really is a good idea.
 
Trace Oswald
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Phil Stevens wrote:@Chris - If i mix char with feed, I'll use finely ground material. I expect, however, that a gizzard would be one if the best ways of grinding chunks to powder. Since I'm about to start producing larger quantities of char for some pilot testing in waterways, I'm looking for a grinding and grading method, and I'd love to have a giant chicken gizzard. Last weekend I tried a makeshift ball mill with a concrete mixer and a few steel balls and large river rocks. They just rolled around on the char and rounded off all the edges after a while. I'll start a new thread with volcano photos.

@Kola Redhawk - I'd definitely start with small amounts in an effort to keep internal biomes functioning. As to the naming, I appreciate the distinction. In an effort to evangelise biochar to the rest of the world, and especially the farming community in NZ, I have been using the term "biochar" to refer to well-pyrolised biomass from a variety of feedstocks. I distinguish the raw material from the inoculated stuff simply by describing it as inoculated or soil ready. This is kind of a tough one to figure out, because I know why you and others (including myself not too many months ago) are careful with terminology. I am currently working, via a number of avenues, to get biochar into the mainstream by proposing its application in several settings in my region as a water quality improvement tool. This means direct application of raw char in sediment traps and bunds, where its sorption attributes can reduce dissolved pollutants (especially nitrates) and then eventually be either retrieved and incorporated in soil, or left to serve as durable carbon in a wetland environment. There's a bit of buzz here associated with the word "biochar" now and since one of the things I'm promoting is the ability of farmers to use feedstocks that they grow, I've chosen to make raw vs inoculated the distinguishing factor.

@Trace - The material I put in the coop  was still damp from the quench process about a week prior. But when I got into a bag of the material that I made in the wood fire last winter I was reminded that a respirator really is a good idea.



Hey Phil, I don't know what quantities you are dealing with, so this may not be useful, but I crush pretty large amounts of charcoal by putting it in a heavy duty bag and running over it a few times.  You can make a very strong, re-usable bag by folding a canvas tarp in half and sewing it shut on two sides.  I turn it inside out, and fold the open end under after I put charcoal in and it works pretty well.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Phil Stevens wrote:@Chris - If i mix char with feed, I'll use finely ground material. I expect, however, that a gizzard would be one if the best ways of grinding chunks to powder. Since I'm about to start producing larger quantities of char for some pilot testing in waterways, I'm looking for a grinding and grading method, and I'd love to have a giant chicken gizzard. Last weekend I tried a makeshift ball mill with a concrete mixer and a few steel balls and large river rocks. They just rolled around on the char and rounded off all the edges after a while. I'll start a new thread with volcano photos.

@Kola Redhawk - I'd definitely start with small amounts in an effort to keep internal biomes functioning. As to the naming, I appreciate the distinction. In an effort to evangelise biochar to the rest of the world, and especially the farming community in NZ, I have been using the term "biochar" to refer to well-pyrolised biomass from a variety of feedstocks. I distinguish the raw material from the inoculated stuff simply by describing it as inoculated or soil ready. This is kind of a tough one to figure out, because I know why you and others (including myself not too many months ago) are careful with terminology. I am currently working, via a number of avenues, to get biochar into the mainstream by proposing its application in several settings in my region as a water quality improvement tool. This means direct application of raw char in sediment traps and bunds, where its sorption attributes can reduce dissolved pollutants (especially nitrates) and then eventually be either retrieved and incorporated in soil, or left to serve as durable carbon in a wetland environment. There's a bit of buzz here associated with the word "biochar" now and since one of the things I'm promoting is the ability of farmers to use feedstocks that they grow, I've chosen to make raw vs inoculated the distinguishing factor.

@Trace - The material I put in the coop  was still damp from the quench process about a week prior. But when I got into a bag of the material that I made in the wood fire last winter I was reminded that a respirator really is a good idea.



Nothing wrong with that Trace, and It is great to hear that you are getting a good reception with chars, that goes a long way in sequestering carbon in the soil where we want it.
Most people don't take the time to differentiate and that can lead to confusion, your method is perfectly fine and acceptable since you are also giving an explanation that removes any possible confusion by lay people.

The best tool I have found to grind char into small pieces is a wood chipper, if you happen across one that has adjustable flails grab it, they are hard to find here and the closer you can get them the better for char grinding. For grading simply use "mesh screens" that way you have numbers for each size particle.

Try to grow some green bread mold (penicillin) to inoculate your char with prior to feeding it to your chooks, it doesn't take much and that will build their immune system since it will be ingested as the raw mold.

If you want to try for probiotics, just get some for humans and make an agar to grow the bacteria in, then add that whole thing to some char and presto changeo, you have probiotic biochar.

Agar or agar-agar is a jelly-like substance, obtained from red algae. Agar is a mixture of two components: the linear polysaccharide agarose, and a heterogeneous mixture of smaller molecules called agaropectin. It forms the supporting structure in the cell walls of certain species of algae, and is released on boiling. These algae are known as agarophytes, and belong to the Rhodophyta phylum. Agar has been used as an ingredient in desserts throughout Asia.


 
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I'm not an expert, but my understanding is that if the charcoal is useful to the birds, they'll eat it as it's available. I would consider not mixing with their food, but perhaps offering it separately as a supplement.
 
Phil Stevens
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Priscilla, my chickens seem to agree with you. They hang around whenever I'm rolling and sieving the char, and some of them will eat quite a bit.
 
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I, too, believe that Patricia is correct.  Several years ago, I was reading a book on natural farming by Australian writer Pat Coleby, and she said that animals don't eat toxic plants unless they're forced to do so by hunger.  So, I would assume that includes other materials, too.  When I give my chickens and ducks something they've never had before, they view it with considerable suspicion, and just nibble at it to start, and gradually eat increasing amounts.
 
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