Poultry farming has long been a backbone of food production, but it is not without its challenges. Rising operational costs, environmental concerns, and the constant pursuit of improved performance have led farmers and industry experts to seek alternative strategies.
For that reason, WasteX recently partnered with Pitik Digital, an Indonesian agri-tech company focusing on poultry, to conduct a study on how biochar can improve the performance of poultry farms. The study revealed fascinating results that could benefit both the farmers and the surrounding environment.
What Is Biochar?
Before diving deeper into the results of the study, let’s learn a little about biochar and how it is made.
Biochar is a highly porous and carbon-rich substance produced through the thermal decomposition of organic materials, such as agricultural waste or biomass, in a process called pyrolysis. This process heats the organic materials in an environment with little to no oxygen, converting it into a charcoal-like substance.
In crop farming, biochar has shown to enhance soil and crop health. Its porous structure can improve soil structure, improve water and nutrient retention capacity, and promotes beneficial microbial activity, among many other benefits.
The Study and Results of Biochar in Poultry Farming
The biochar production and application was conducted in West Java, Indonesia, at a poultry farm of Pitik Digital starting from January to May 2023.
For this study, the biochar was produced from rice husks using WasteX’s proprietary equipment. The biochar was then used as bedding materials and feed supplement in two consecutive trials, which will be detailed in the following sections.
The First Trial
During the first trial, the team focused on the application of biochar on chicken bedding. The treatment group received a bedding mixture that consists of 10% biochar and 90% rice husks, while the control group’s bedding was 100% rice husks. As for the sample size, a total of 3,200 chickens were used, with both control and treatment groups having 1,600 chickens each.
The treatment group exhibited an exceptional result, using 30% less bedding per chicken compared to the control group. This reduction in bedding usage not only demonstrated the effectiveness of rice husk biochar but also indicated potential cost savings for farmers.
One of the most significant findings from the first trial was an improvement in mortality rate. The treatment group exhibited a 25.7% lower mortality rate, with only 78 dead chickens compared to the control group’s 105 chickens. This decrease could greatly improve farmers’ yield and total revenue.
Moreover, the first trial’s results revealed that the treatment group displayed a slight improvement in the feed conversion ratio (FCR) compared to the control group. With a 5.9% lower FCR, the chickens using biochar-mixed bedding converted feed into body weight more effectively, thus requiring less feed and helping reduce farmers’ costs on feed.
Translating those results into financial gains makes the impact even more significant. In particular, farmers with 20,000 or more chickens can potentially gain an additional income of over $5,000 per year from reduced bedding costs, improved weight yield, and other operational improvements. This can offer a ray of hope for farmers operating on thin profit margins and can significantly improve their livelihoods.
Below is a table comparison to see all the assessed parameters and the complete results of the first trial:
The Second Trial
Meanwhile, for the second trial, chicken feed was supplemented with biochar (1-2% of the total feed), given when the chicks reached 8-day old. The aim was to see the effect of the biochar-mixed feed on the levels of Escherichia coli (E. coli) in chicken manure.
The results were remarkable, with the treatment group experiencing a significant reduction in E. coli levels, up to 99.8%. This reduction demonstrates biochar’s effectiveness in reducing the presence of harmful pathogens in chicken manure, thereby enhancing hygiene and biosecurity.
The chart below shows the difference in E. coli levels between feed with no biochar and those supplemented with 1% and 2% of biochar on the 10th, 20th, and 27th day of observation.
The Effects of Biochar on Crop Farming
In addition to the poultry-related benefits, the study also explored the application of biochar mixed with used bedding (poultry litter) on nearby crops. Three different compositions of biochar and used bedding were tested for this trial.
The results were outstanding, with crop yields increasing by up to 63%. The highest yield increase was achieved using a mixture of 70% biochar and 30% used bedding.
The finding above highlights the potential for utilizing biochar in agricultural practices beyond poultry farming. The application of biochar mixed with used bedding can enhance crop growth and lead to substantial increases in yields. It also presents an environmentally friendly approach to maximize agricultural productivity.
Removing Carbon with Biochar
Poultry farmers taking advantage of biochar will also contribute to reducing their carbon footprint.
During the pyrolysis process, biochar effectively locks in carbon contained within the biomass, preventing its release into the atmosphere. This stable form can persist for decades or even centuries, effectively removing carbon that otherwise would be emitted if the biomass is left to decay on its own.
As such, WasteX, the company behind the biochar solutions, guarantees its clients carbon credits for $50/ton. This amounts to up to $1,500/year, estimated for farms with 20,000 chickens or more. This additional revenue stream further strengthens the economic feasibility of adopting this sustainable solution.
During the course of the study, 0.3 tons of biochar were successfully produced and applied on the poultry farm. The whole process managed to remove 0.5 tons of CO2 equivalent (equal to 0.5 carbon credits). Meanwhile, on an annual basis, the equipment can produce up to 30 tons of biochar and remove up to 50 tons of CO2 equivalents from the atmosphere.
Pawel Kuznicki, Director of WasteX, expressed excitement about the study's results. He stated that the results of the solution implementation on a poultry farm have greatly exceeded their initial expectations.
He added that they already expected some operational improvements, but “the additional income from decreased mortality rates and reduced bedding use, among others, will largely surpass the carbon credits’ proceeds.”
Rymax Joehana, representing Pitik Digital, also shared their positive experience as they “have had a great experience working with WasteX.” They are open to new solutions to improve their farms’ performance, and it seems that “biochar addition to the bedding and feed brought multiple operational benefits” for the farm.
Furthermore, Pitik Digital is also in discussion with WasteX on scaling up the solutions.
“We are currently in detailed discussion with WasteX to explore potential scale-up of this model to bring impact to many more of our Kawan Pitik farmers and increase the environmental sustainability of Pitik's operations.”
Meanwhile, in addition to working with Pitik Digital, WasteX is also “working with a number of other poultry farms in Indonesia and the Philippines to spread our solution further.”
WasteX is a climate tech start-up operating in the Philippines and Indonesia. The company provides an end-to-end solution helping farmers and agricultural producers to utilize biomass waste by converting it to biochar for operational and environmental benefits. And as seen from the study, this biochar solution has the potential to revolutionize poultry farming practices in Indonesia, the Philippines, and other countries in Southeast Asia.
The pilot study exploring the application of rice husk biochar in poultry farming has yielded remarkable results, paving the way for a more sustainable and economically viable future for farmers. The findings from the study highlight the significant benefits of incorporating biochar into chicken bedding and feed, including reduced bedding usage, improved feed conversion ratios, lower mortality rates, and elevated Index Performance.
Notably, the use of biochar in poultry farming extends beyond operational improvements. It also demonstrates the potential for substantial financial gains, with farmers standing to earn additional income and carbon credits through WasteX's solution.
With its ability to improve farm performance, mitigate environmental impact, and enhance the livelihoods of farmers, biochar represents an alternative solution for the poultry industry.