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Biochar in chicken bedding and deep litter yard

 
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Hi
I am just starting to learn about the use biochar in animal operations, and I see that it can be used for animal beddings in order to reduce odour from their manures and reduce incidence of illness/infections
By checking the following article about Biochar in poultry farming they say: "The biochar should, depending on the type of litter, be mixed 5-10 vol % with the usual litter. ". But they don't specify it for all types of litter. In my case I would say that both in the chicken house (night time shelter) and the deep litter yard, I would use mainly straw as a bedding material and may be also woodchips (perhaps are these two the 'usual' litter?).
What would be a good percentage to mix in this type of bedding material (in case this is not the usual litter)?
Can it just be mixed in without further processing and just plain char or it would be better to mix loaded char (biochar).
I assume it needs to be finely ground however.
Cheers
 
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I wouldn't grind it too finely and if it isn't going to stay damp, I would be hesitant to do it at all.  Charcoal is really dusty when it's crushed and breathing it can't be healthy.
 
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I agree it wouldn't be healthy to breathe in. I would say for odor prevention scatter a thin layer before you add new litter. that way, the normal litter acts as a barrier. while smaller particle size would give more surface area for absorption, it also increases the likelihood of airborne particles. another idea, if you have a way to hang it out of chicken-reach, would be a sachet of relatively fine-ground biochar in a mesh bag. If your coop has an unusual buildup of dust, that means fine particulates are building up and the building should be opened up to a stiff breeze while the bedding is agitated.

I would say those two are the usual litter, and to start on the low side. I would also look for other articles because while that one sings it's praises, it actually doesn't explain too much on how it came to those conclusions. I don't necessarily doubt the claims, but it isn't the strongest article I've ever read.

ETA: This article seems a bit stronger and backs up previous claims while elaborating. https://www.ecofarmingdaily.com/build-soil/soil-inputs/fertilizers/biochar-poultry-farming-unexpected-uses-biocarbon/

I would stick to slightly larger sizes since you aren't using pelleted bedding. it seems like it relies on air flow to reduce ammonia but direct contact for the liquid absorption. It would proably work best wiht the woodchips, unless you chop the straw or find a way to reduce straw length. I've seen where someone used a string trimmer and a trashcan to reduce straw to ~3" pieces, that may help with getting a good straw/char ratio. since it does need contact, I would suggest doing half and half instead, where you spread half the amount over the old bedding/poop, spread the new bedding, then top dress wiht the other half. that way any excess moisture that seeps down is absorbed and it minizes chicken foot contact. Since they suggest feeding it, I'm not too concerned about the chicken contact other than trying to think of how to use it best. If you get a soggy bottom layer, a generous helping of biochar on bottom would help more than on top, but I don't know if it would also reduce ammonia then. a half and half would target both moisture and ammonia in the air I would think.
 
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I mix lumps of charcoal in with the chicken bedding. No pre-treating and no grinding. I do tend to make charcoal out of small feedstock, so the largest lumps might be about the size of my thumb, and the smallest is around the size of my pinky nail.

As the charcoal absorbs odors, it also absorbs nutrients and microbes, so I consider the bedding as a biochar inoculation method. And I can vouch for the fact that it absorbs odors like you wouldn't believe!

Be aware that you'll probably find charcoal chalk-marks on your eggs. They don't hurt anything, but they look weird.
 
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I've been using biochar in the coop bedding for over a year now. I start with shavings, then after a few days I sprinkle on some crushed biochar. The cautions about dust are well founded...I want the littler to be a bit damp before I add the biochar because it's pretty finely crushed. I also do it during the day while the birds are outside so that they're not breathing it while it settles.

The first time I added it the litter was nasty and starting to reek of ammonia. The biochar totally stopped the process and the smell went away, and I was able to wait weeks before finally changing the bedding. I'd say I typically use about 5% by volume and add it in stages about a week or so apart. I use more in winter when things don't dry out, and I'm now able to go a month or more between cleanings.
 
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hi I've been researching a lot for my upcoming backyard chicken coup and what i'm going to go with is a mixture of compressed pine equine bedding pellets and hardwood charcoal briquettes with no additives. mix both and add water and stir to decompress, fluff it up. then spot clean as needed and change completely out as needed.
 
Antonio Scotti
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Phil Stevens wrote:I'd say I typically use about 5% by volume and add it in stages about a week or so apart.



Hi thanks all for your input.
Phil, are you saying that you do add this 5% in stages, say the first week only 2.5% and the remaining 2,5% the following week or something similar?
Regards
 
Vanessa Alarcon
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why not just get a bag of hardwood charcoal briquettes and dissolve them in a 5 gal bucket with some rain water? it might be more finely ground that you would want but it would still help with smell and it would naturally become activated biochar as it processes in the litter. Also, don't have to deal with the dust. what i plan to do in the future is mix a bag of equine pellets with a bag of briquettes, soak everything in water and use that for my bedding.
 
Antonio Scotti
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Hi Vanessa, thanks for your note. Unfortunately the biochar producer that I know nearby doesn't do briquettes, but just either coarse type or more granular type biochar.
 
Antonio Scotti
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it would naturally become activated biochar as it processes in the litter.


Hi Vanessa, while I see you point here, it seems to me that loaded (or activated) biochar may contain many more types of life forms that can help both with the break down of manure and inoculate it with beneficial fungi, which doesn't necessarily happen by just using the manure as the activating agent....but I may be wrong.
 
Trace Oswald
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Vanessa Alarcon wrote:why not just get a bag of hardwood charcoal briquettes and dissolve them in a 5 gal bucket with some rain water? it might be more finely ground that you would want but it would still help with smell and it would naturally become activated biochar as it processes in the litter. Also, don't have to deal with the dust. what i plan to do in the future is mix a bag of equine pellets with a bag of briquettes, soak everything in water and use that for my bedding.



In my own coop, I keep things as dry as possible.  Moisture is very bad for chickens' lungs.  I don't even water my chickens in the coop.  For myself, I would never use wet bedding for my chickens.  I have used barely dampened charcoal in my coop, but why buy charcoal when it is so easy to make and then it's free?  It's also a far smaller environmental cost than having it packaged, trucked to a store somewhere, and then you have to drive there to get it.  You can make charcoal very easily with material from your own trees or from material that can be had in your immediate area.  In addition to all that, you know for a 100% certainty that the material is clean and really doesn't have any additives.  It is still going to be turned into biochar in the coop, the same as the bag you bought from the store would.
 
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Vanessa Alarcon wrote:why not just get a bag of hardwood charcoal briquettes and dissolve them in a 5 gal bucket with some rain water? it might be more finely ground that you would want but it would still help with smell and it would naturally become activated biochar as it processes in the litter. Also, don't have to deal with the dust. what i plan to do in the future is mix a bag of equine pellets with a bag of briquettes, soak everything in water and use that for my bedding.



Charcoal briquettes are about as different from charcoal as particle board is to hardwood lumber.  Briquettes are composed of bits of charcoal, anthracite or bituminous coal, starch or clay (as a binder), sawdust, and sodium nitrate.  They are manufactured to burn slowly and evenly, but share few of the qualities of normal charcoal that allow it to become biochar.  The most significant quality of charcoal is the porosity --- millions and millions of tiny holes and "tunnels" throughout the lump of charcoal that become habitat for microbial life.  The surface area of a 3 inch lump of charcoal is almost an acre.  Whereas the surface area of a briquette is exactly what you see, because the binders and fillers all completely fill the pore space.

Yes, dissolving a briquette would expose some of the internal bits of charcoal, but you'd still have the presence of all that other stuff, most significantly the sodium nitrate.  I wouldn't want that excess salt in my soil.

 
Vanessa Alarcon
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Trace Oswald wrote:

Vanessa Alarcon wrote:why not just get a bag of hardwood charcoal briquettes and dissolve them in a 5 gal bucket with some rain water? it might be more finely ground that you would want but it would still help with smell and it would naturally become activated biochar as it processes in the litter. Also, don't have to deal with the dust. what i plan to do in the future is mix a bag of equine pellets with a bag of briquettes, soak everything in water and use that for my bedding.



In my own coop, I keep things as dry as possible.  Moisture is very bad for chickens' lungs.  



yikes! first off. so sorry i posted twice. totally did not realize i did that.<<cringe>> second, i did not explain myself properly. My plan is to add water to the pellets to break them down into sawdust, but not have them soggy wet,just damp , and dry them as much as possible?( i may have to tweak this idea, though). finally, it is my understanding that there are high quality hardwood charcoal briquettes that are formed from the remnants of lump charcoal and their only binder is cornstarch. am i wrong? i'm sorry if i am, just trying to give an easier option (not necessarily free, i know) to op.
 
Trace Oswald
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Vanessa Alarcon wrote:

Trace Oswald wrote:

Vanessa Alarcon wrote:why not just get a bag of hardwood charcoal briquettes and dissolve them in a 5 gal bucket with some rain water? it might be more finely ground that you would want but it would still help with smell and it would naturally become activated biochar as it processes in the litter. Also, don't have to deal with the dust. what i plan to do in the future is mix a bag of equine pellets with a bag of briquettes, soak everything in water and use that for my bedding.



In my own coop, I keep things as dry as possible.  Moisture is very bad for chickens' lungs.  



yikes! first off. so sorry i posted twice. totally did not realize i did that.<<cringe>> second, i did not explain myself properly. My plan is to add water to the pellets to break them down into sawdust, but not have them soggy wet,just damp , and dry them as much as possible?( i may have to tweak this idea, though). finally, it is my understanding that there are high quality hardwood charcoal briquettes that are formed from the remnants of lump charcoal and their only binder is cornstarch. am i wrong? i'm sorry if i am, just trying to give an easier option (not necessarily free, i know) to op.



I think your idea would work if the water would remove the cornstarch and there were no other additives in it, and then you could dry everything in the sun before using it.  It might be very time consuming to make an amount that would be useful in a larger chicken coop, but may work for a small coop that only had a few chickens.
 
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Regarding biochar surface area when crushed or left in chunks, please remember that virtually all the surface area is already exposed in the chunks as the structure of biochar is that of the precursor plant, so it's a microporous sponge of xylem and phloem walls with nanoporosity in those walls themselves.  I never crush mine as I choose to mimic the natural pyrolytic process from forest fires.  I mainly lay it on the soil and then cover it as part of a mulch lay down to mimic forest floors.  So I wouldn't crush it for a coup either.
 
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Greg! I hope you circle back around and see this.

I am on a biochar kick currently and I just saw this post. Can you provide more info to expound on what you posted here? I have had the idea of exactly what you are saying, but always at least roughly crush my char, both to make spreading it easier and because it seems popular opinion says it increases surface area.

Thanks!
 
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