Use of biochar by sheep: impacts on diet selection, digestibility, and performance

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Journal of Animal Science

Publication Date

Fall 11-21-2020






The objective of this study was to determine the influence of biochar obtained from exothermic production of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) on sheep performance and diet digestibility and on preference for a ration enriched with this carbon-based material. Twenty-four lambs were housed in individual pens and assigned to one of three treatment groups (eight animals per group), where they received: 1) a 60:40 ration of alfalfa:barley (Control), 2) an isoenergetic and isonitrogenous ration with alfalfa, barley, and 2% biochar (BC), and 3) a simultaneous offer of the Control and BC rations (Choice). Lambs were exposed to two consecutive feeding periods (Period 1: 13 d and Period 2: 21 d), representing time intervals where the evolution of intake, animal performance, and rumen parameters were assessed; in vivo digestibility was determined during the last 5 d of the study. Ration intake did not differ among groups of lambs (P > 0.10), although during some days in Period 2, intake was greater for the BC and Choice groups than for the Control group (P < 0.05). Lambs in Choice had a lower preference for BC than for the Control ration (Period 1: P < 0.05; Period 2: P < 0.10), although they incorporated a substantial amount of BC (39 and 40%, for Periods 1 and 2, respectively) into their diets. No differences in body weight gains (ADG) or gain-to-feed ratios were found among groups of animals (P > 0.10), although dry matter digestibility and digestible dry matter intake was greater for lambs in the BC group than for lambs in Control group (P < 0.05). The ruminal concentration of the volatile acid acetate in Period 2 was greater for BC than for Choice (P < 0.05). During the same period, the concentration of valerate and ruminal pH values were greater in BC than in Control (P < 0.05). Thus, the addition of biochar to grain-based diets enhanced diet digestibility and influenced some ruminal parameters in lambs. Nevertheless, these positive effects were not reflected in significant improvements on ADG or feed conversion efficiencies. Lambs offered choices between Control and BC rations formed a diet with concentrations of biochar of ~1.2%, suggesting that these animals would tolerate such levels without reductions in ration palatability.