Biochar as an Ingredient for Animal Bedding prior to Composting

SoilMatrix Newsletter No. 18

The beneficial properties of biochar are greatly enhanced when amended into waste biomass such as manure and other agricultural or urban organic materials before being composted. The result is a compost that is teaming with beneficial microbes and charged with “controlled-release and stabilized” plant available nutrients.

In our very first newsletter (2017), we introduced the healthy plant-soil triangular relationships as described in this diagram.

Figure 1.   Plant Roots, Nutrients, Moisture, Microbiology, and Soil matrix Triangular Relationship

Biochar as an ingredient in soil works to improve these relationships by creating an inviting environment for beneficial micro and macro biology, by absorbing and maintaining moisture conditions, and by adsorbing both macro and micronutrients.  AirTerra has been selling retail and wholesale quantities of biochar across Canada for the past six years.  Even though our customers have enjoyed the benefits of their biochar amended soils, we have recognized that it would be easier and more beneficial to our customers if farmers were to apply biochar directly into animal bedding prior to being composted. This retains more nutrients in the resulting manure compost while reducing odours and GHG emissions at the same time as it is being used in the animal bedding. This practice would also help to realize biochar’s potential as a climate change mitigation and adaptation method at a significant scale.

Over the past few months, we have concentrated our efforts on the potential use of biochar as an animal bedding ingredient that is beneficial for animal health and indoor air conditions in barns and arenas.   Amending biochar with medium and coarse granular sizes into animal bedding provides a “sponge” that adsorbs nutrients from animal urine and manure as soon as animals produce these valuable products.   Since biochar is such a powerful sponge for these elements, odours in barns are reduced at the same time as important nutrients are retained.  Additionally, biochar helps to aerate the bedding to prevent anaerobic conditions that invite pathogens.

The greatest potential for this practice is on mixed farms that operate barns and grow various crops.   To test this method of animal bedding amendment, AirTerra has teamed up with MiGO Ranch owned and operated by MGO Systems Inc. at a newly acquired former Hutterite Colony near Crossfield, Alberta.  MiGO Ranch will be testing the use of biochar as an animal bedding ingredient with eventual composting of the spent bedding along with its amended biochar to produce a “Co-Composted Biochar and Manure” product.

The biochar compost will be used as a top dress on MiGO Ranch’s produce gardens and on its crop fields in the same way as animal bedding compost has been used for decades in Alberta.   The health advantages of using biochar in the barns will then extend to further benefit the soils that are amended with this co-composted product.

We are excited to collaborate with MiGO Ranch.  We will keep you more regularly posted on our progress in this direction.   The following are a few early photos of MiGO Ranch from a distance, and the small poultry barn that is now being amended with biochar.

Figure 2. MiGO Ranch From a Distance in Alberta’s Smoke Filled Summer of 2021
Figure 3. Biochar Amended Bedding in Chicken Coop at MiGO Ranch

If you wish to dive more deeply into this topic, we have included a link to a white paper written on this topic in January of 2019 by Kelpie Wilson of Kelpie Wilson Associates. See:  Use of Biochar in Poultry Barns for Nutrient Recovery and Ammonia Mitigation – Literature Review and Recommendations”

We still have a few 70 litre bags of our SoilMatrix® Biochar available from our spring of 2021 inventory.    These are available at $70.00 each plus shipping via Canada Post to anywhere in Canada.   Larger quantities and bulk bag sizes are available at discounted prices.   See our full price list provided here:  SoilMatrix Biochar Price List

Thank you for staying tuned.

Rob Lavoie, CEO and Founder of AirTerra Inc.

Copyright ©_2021 AirTerra, all rights reserved.  Please reference AirTerra as the source of this information.

The Wisdom of Agricultural Co-Composting of Biochar and Animal Manure

SoilMatrix Newsletter No. 17

The Wisdom of Agricultural Co-Composting of Biochar and Animal Manure

Cattle Feeding and Over Wintering

The topic of co-composting animal manures with biochar has risen in importance since about 2010 with the publication of an increasing number of research papers on this topic, including an astounding research discovery at the Canadian Light Source facility in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  This research demonstrated the way in which organic materials physically coat the surfaces of biochar particles over a period of time during co-composting of biomass with biochar 2.

Land application of compost is an age-old agricultural method of returning nutrients to soils.  However, compost additions to soils can result in substantial emissions of greenhouse gas, especially N2O, which needs to be controlled during making and using compost containing high N-loads, such as chicken manure.  Some farmers in some countries are now pursuing the option of adding granulated biochar to animal bedding for the co-benefits of improving animal health and enhancing the eventual composting value of this material.  The eventual applications of co-composted biochar-manure mixtures is demonstrating benefits for soils and plants.

We already know that biochar blended with finished compost makes a great soil amendment to promote healthy plant growth.  All you need to do is run a Google search to find a vast amount of information on this.  However, why add biochar to animal bedding material destined for manure compost production?

Example of biochar spread on top of animal bedding prior to cleaning out an animal shelter in the spring

What we already know about biochar’s nutrient holding and moisture retention capabilities along with its ability to stimulate microbiological populations of beneficial bacteria and fungi when amended into soils, leads to the possibility for these added benefits for co-composting with other organic materials.  Significant numbers of research projects have been underway and are continuing with positive biochar-manure co-composting benefits being substantiated.  These benefits include:

Example of creating a manure-biochar compost pile with a manure spreader
  1. Shorter composting time requirements 1
  2. Absorbs leachate generated during the composting process 2, 3
  3. Absorbs nutrients in the leachate and in the organic matter of the compost
  4. Retains moisture during the composting process
  5. Reduced N2O emissions 4, 5 6, 
  6. Reduced CH4 emissions
  7. Reduced NH3 emissions
  8. Provides a bulking agent
  9. Reduces odor
  10. Increases Cationic Exchange Capacity (CEC) 5
  11. Minimal degradation of the carbon material is observed, rendering it an effective means of carbon sequestration 5
  12. Surfaces of biochar particles become coated with organic material resulting in significant plant available nutrients 2, 3

Although these benefits have been demonstrated by small plot tests and field trials, in some cases, much more field experimentation and demonstration will be needed.  AirTerra is seeking to work with experimental farmers to supply the necessary high-quality biochar to fully verify these findings.  We are anticipating a revolution in regenerative farming as a result of these early (or late depending on how you see it) explorations of what we and others are calling “Carbon Farming”.

References:

  1. Ted Talk on biochar-manure co-composting   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4GgHEPA3Yc
  2. Nikolas Hagemann, Stephen Joseph, Hans-Peter Schmidt, et al, “Organic coating on biochar explains its nutrient retention and stimulation of soil fertility”, Nature Communications, October, 2017, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-01123-0.pdf?origin=ppub
  3. Canadian Light Source, “Scientists discover why biochar fertilizers work so well”, http://www.lightsource.ca/news/details/scientists_discover_why_biochar_fertilizers_work_so_well.html
  4. Claudia Kammann, et al, “Biochar as a tool to reduce the agricultural greenhouse-gas burden – knowns, unknowns and future research needs”, Journal of Environmental Engineering and Landscape Management,  Published on June 28, 2017 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.3846/16486897.2017.1319375?needAccess=true
  5. Katharina Prost, “Biochar Co-Composting with Farmyard Manure”, Journal of Environmental Quality, February 13, 2012 https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/45651957/Biochar_Affected_by_Composting_with_Farm20160515-10629-18emll4.pdf?response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DBiochar_Affected_by_Composting_with_Farm.pdf&X-Amz-Algorithm=AWS4-HMAC-SHA256&X-Amz-Credential=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A%2F20191201%2Fus-east-1%2Fs3%2Faws4_request&X-Amz-Date=20191201T225005Z&X-Amz-Expires=3600&X-Amz-SignedHeaders=host&X-Amz-Signature=525d4c6a56064313ed71ffb77bf1099c164b492d9c1e172bab6738b10b1c4033
  6. Yinghong Yuan, et al, “Is Biochar-manure co-compost a better solution for soil health improvement and N2O emissions mitigation?”, EPA, 2017  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5920545/

World Soil Day – Celebrate by viewing the movie “Dirt Rich”

SoilMatrix Newsletter No. 14 (World Soil Day!)

In honor of the upcoming “World Soil Day”, December 5, 2018, this SoilMatrix newsletter is dedicated to the importance of soil for sustaining life on Earth.

As a way of entering into this celebration, we are providing a link to the newly released movie “Dirt Rich”, filmed and produced by Marcy Cravat of Passelande Pictures.   Dirt Rich is being premiered at Film Festivals all over North America and recently won the “Earth Shaker” award at the Maui Film Festival.

Passelane Pictures is partnering with Dr. Mercola’s team to freely stream this movie until October 12, 2018, after which it is available for purchase or rent.

To access the link to this free movie screening, click here.

To access the link to this free movie screening, click here.

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