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June 1, 2023

Biochar gone to the cows? You bet

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Don Coyne, left, and Kelvin Daly at the kiln which will produce biochar to add to the cow’s feed.
Don Coyne, left, and Kelvin Daly at the kiln which will produce biochar to add to the cow’s feed.

Luis Feliu

Brunswick Heads organic farmer Kelvin Daly is all fired up about a new method of biochar production and a new way of enriching the soil on his property and his cattle’s health.

He’s eager to spread it and the word around, and so is local horticulturist and biochar consultant Don Coyne, who helped Kelvin set up a farm-size biochar kiln on his property recently which produced lots of the loamy peat clumps of biochar to give the cows to eat in their food, and not just spread into his garden soils.

It’s been found that dung beetles which feed on cow’s droppings containing activated charcoal from the biochar, take the biochar further into the soil, thereby boosting its growing power and productive value.

It’s a truly sustainably way by which Kelvin was able to clean up his property of old fence posts, offcuts and other burnable building waste and convert it to the biodynamic charcoal (or biochar) by a simple low-cook method.

They both enthuse: ’it’s the ‘black gold’ of farming, it’s a ‘breakthrough’ and ‘game changer’, and urge farmers, graziers and anyone interested in organic horticulture or gardening to attend the upcoming Byron Bioenergy Conference at Byron Eco Park, Tyagarah, on the weekend of September 12-13.

Don Coyne, left, and Kelvin Daly with the finished product: a large pile of valuable ‘black gold’, or biochar.
Don Coyne, left, and Kelvin Daly with the finished product: a large pile of valuable ‘black gold’, or biochar.

The two say large-scale biochar production is taking off in Europe where soils depleted by over-use have been replenished using biochar and pastures where cattle are fed with it and grazing through orchards have improved as a result.

One of the keynote speakers at the conference is an avocado, dairy and beef farmer from Western Australia, Doug Pow, who has been feeding his cows biochar for four years and seen economic and biological outcomes far beyond his expectations.

Kelvin, who does not use sprays or chemicals on his herd, says catle farming and agriculture on the north coast would benefit from use of biochar. He and Don managed to prouduce a healthy large pile of the finished biochar from several tonnes of wood scrap and says it’s a fairly simple kiln set up.

He admitted the collection, chainsawing, splitting, iling and turning the wood pile was a little labour intensive at first, but worth it when one sees the lush end product, a whole five-tonne pile of the valuable material.

Kelvin said the new way of spreading biochar by dung beetles feeding on the cow droppings was what also made the use of the soil-reviver hugely more economically viable for orchardists, and there was plenty of those on the north coast.

No more spreading tonnes of expensive fertilisers per acre, he said, the dung beetles can ‘get in there and just do their work’ on the droppings of biochar-fed cows.

He said macadamia farmers in the region could also benefit greatly as they would have a new use for husks to add to their kiln or generate electricity.

Don Coyne, left, and Kelvin Daly with the finished product: a large pile of valuable ‘black gold’, or biochar.
Don Coyne, left, and Kelvin Daly with the finished product: a large pile of valuable ‘black gold’, or biochar.

Other speakers at the conference include: Bob Doyle (the largest grower of industrial hemp in Australia who has just bought the Old Timber Mill at Dungog to make hemp pallets), Kaye Wood from Byron Bay Bamboo, Euan Beaumont from Energy Farmers Australia, Dr Joe Herbertson (award-winning engineer of the ‘Continuous Biomass Converter’), soil scientist Dr Lukas Van Zweiten (from NSW Department of Primary Industries), Dr Stephen Joseph (visiting professor, who will demonstrate the revolutionary Kontiki Kiln) and Chad Sheppeard (director of Wood Vinegar Australia, which produces a biochar water product).

The conference will also screen ‘The Biochar Movie’, the story of a couple that moved into the middle of a flailing forestry plantation, started a biochar project and changed things forever’ there

To view the program for tickets visit http://www.byronbiochar.com.au/index.php/product-category/events/

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  1. And after burning and digesting all the available wood on the farm and feeding it to methane monster cows isnt the net result a supersized carbon and methane footprint?

    • D West
      I can see how this picture could look if all the organic matter is being burnt. Scientists would need to confirm the process is beneficial for the environment regarding carbon etc

      I live on just 5 acres and there is plenty of waste material such as camphor and privet weeding, fallen branches, storm damage, thinning out etc. I have enough dead wood material to supply all our fire wood and maintain large patches of piled up organic matter for wildlife habitat. I also leave old trees with potential nesting places for wildlife. There would still be plenty for a biochar project. Farmers could easily plant fast growing trees such as wattles to use as biochar if they had an old school scorched paddock farm.

      I applaud the innovation of these people. It could help improve soils across the planet and free communities from unsustainable fertiliser products. Healthy soil increases grass growth and variety leading to more carbon sequestration.

    • Your not burning, but pyrolising the Virgin biomass….would be very surprised if it was all the wood on the farm! That would be counter productive.

      Regarding methane, adding Biochar to the cattles diet improves Dry Matter Intake, Feed conversion efficiency and reduces Methane. In short the Rumens “Fermentation stomach” efficiencies are enhanced, due to the adage of biochar with its porous structure and Alkalinity…Look at RA Lengs work. Obviously there is more work needed to show further success, as in other studies such as the NZ Biochar research center shows no benefits. Different feedstocks/temperatures are showing varied results.

      Though even without the reduction of methane, your getting more from the cattles feed, meaning less input to finish… then used carbon is sequestered in the manure to benefit in reduced eutrophication and enhanced structure and improved yields….All depending on feedstock and soil type!

      This is why we need more research to help, reduce these vairabilities and see how biochar can best used!

      We arre presently looking into the use of biochar as a feed additive for our cattle in the U.K. I will be posting results and noticeable changes on my Twitter. Of which I am using to help further understand the benefits and downfalls to Charing.

      Follow me on Twitter @BiocharMy (not much info yet, have just set up…but if your interested, come follow me on my journey)

  2. Carbon Fodders, as practiced in the EU, have a cascading effect. First, only 100-200 grams are fed daily, the health benefits multiple, Better feed conversion rates because the enteric balence of microbes favors CH4 eating wee-beasties over CH4 making bugs, studies show CH4 belching is reduced 20%.

    Ithaka Institute for the full story, also “Super Stone Clean” biochar company in Japan who double the size of shrimp, clams fish & ells in aquaponics culture & Increase egg quality & health in chickens

  3. …not to mention all the rubbish that can be turned to Biochar. There has been studies carried out regarding Biochar, & it is a net carbon capture improvement, but I cannot point to the study (try googling).
    Biochar can also be added to the compost heap.

    regards, Doug

  4. D.West. We have done the science on this already and it is far more beneficial for our planet than supporting the big industries. Please have a look at biocharproject.org/moxham from there you can find all the trial data and results from many trials done with Biochar.

    Anything that grows can be biochared so on a farm you will never run out of carbon based resources to use.

    Good work Don and Kelvin hope to see you guys at the Byron Bioenergy Fest in September.

    Charmaster Dolph Cooke
    Biochar Industries Kunghur.

  5. Great initiative but sounds like a lot of hard work when a much more productive and less input friendly way to improve soil and animal health would be to implement a Holistic Management planned grazing programme.

  6. When I was a kid, before the plethora of chemical animal-health ‘solutions’, sheep and cattle would be turned briefly onto a freshly burnt stubble paddock because perceived wisdom was that high-charcoal diets would purge intestinal worms.

    I would be inclined to view this as deserving a place in holistic animal management.

    I also understand we date the long, long habitation of Indigenous Australians through analysis of the charcoal of their cooking fires. Charring offers a unique means of virtually permanent sidelining of as much as half of the atmospheric carbon sequestered as plants grow.

    Half burnt back to the atmosphere; half removed for between one to forty millennia.

    Great to see this innovation from these guys. If charcoal comprised two percent of the top 200mm of the arable soils of Earth … Do the maths.


  7. The Scientific Paper written as a result of Doug Pow, the farmer that has been feeding his cows Biochar for four years in W.A.& the Soil Scientist Dr Stephen Joseph who has now analyzed the results from both an Economic & Biological point of view, will present at the Byron Bioenergy Conference on Sept 12 & 13. Also featuring Charmaster Dolph Cooke’s Movie, AVACHAR!! You can register online here http://www.byronbiochar.com.au/index.php/product-category/events/


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