The use of biochar in cattle farming
90% of the biochar produced in Europe is used in livestock farming. Whether mixed with feed, added to litter or used in the treatment of slurry, the positive effect of biochar very quickly becomes apparent. The health – and consequently the well-being – of the livestock improve within just a short space of time. As regards nasty smells and nutrient losses, the use of biochar could even herald a new age of livestock farming, closing agricultural cycles of organic matter.
Hormonal, chelating, antibiotic, teratogenic, carcinogenic and neural effects are the main symptoms of the cattle diseases, with which I am faced in my daily practice as a vet. The productivity of cows and thus of production units are greatly dependent on the proper functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. This is the reason why diseases of the digestive tract and the corresponding treatment strategies play a key role in commercial livestock farming. Maintaining "eubiosis" (host and microflora living together in symbiosis) in the gastrointestinal tract of animals is becoming increasingly difficult, as more and more farms (i) specialise in either crop farming or livestock farming, and (ii) merge together to form increasingly larger units. The result is that feedstuff can no longer be "home-grown" in sufficient quantities and quality and instead has to be purchased from outside. More often than not, farmers are no longer in a position to assess the quality of such feedstuff (purchase is based on trust).
Directly linked to this problematic situation is the appearance of chronic botulism that reached disturbing levels in herds of cattle over the last few years (Krüger et al. 2012, Böhnel u. Gessler 2012). Affecting cattle, the disease – a toxic infection – is caused by clostridium botulinum toxins and is leading to significant direct and indirect losses in livestock farming. In her search for the main factor(s) influencing the emergence of this new phenotype, Krüger (2012) took a close look at the role played by glyphosate, a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide, and AMPA, its main metabolite. Her research revealed major amounts of glyphosate notably in the urine of dairy cows (up to 164 micrograms / l in Germany and up to 138 micrograms / l in Denmark, on average 20-50 micrograms / l) but also in rumen fluid (0.04 to 122 micrograms / l). Glyphosate was also found in human urine (up to 2.8 micrograms / l), although to a much lesser degree (see: Herbicides found in Humane Urine). Moreover glyphosate has also been detected in digestate from biogas plants and in different animal feeds, often in alarming concentrations. The fact that glyphosate has antibiotic effects is incidentally well-known to the producers of the herbicide, with Monsanto even filing an application for it to be patented as such (US-Patent 7,771,736, EP0001017636). When glyphosate gets into the digestive tract of animals and humans, it causes detectable changes in the gastrointestinal microbiota.
A good prophylactic, metaphylactic and therapeutic possibility of binding botulinum toxin and other toxins formed by clostridia, as well as the herbicide glyphosate increasingly detected in feedstuff, in the gastrointestinal tract of cattle seems to be the administration of biochar.