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Effect of coconut (Cocos nucifera) shell charcoal on the growth performance of broilers

B G Mongo, M O S Ghomsi, B L Tientcheu, A Y Semi, T N Menghueo1 and K A Etchu

Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD), Yaoundé, PO Box 2067 Yaoundé, Cameroun
1 Institution National Advanced School of Engineering of Maroua, University of Maroua P O Box 46 Maroua, Cameroun


Charcoal derived from combustion of coconut (Coconut nucifera) shell was included at 0, 0.2 and 0.6% of a maize-soybean diet fed to Arbor Acres chicks (n=144; 745-752g initial live weight; 30-days-old). The three treatments were replicated 3 times with groups of 16 chicks in each treatment-replicate.

There were curvilinear trends indicating improvements in feed intake, live weight gain and feed conversion as the level of charcoal in the diet was increased. Feed intake was increased by 6.3%, live weight gain by 14%, and feed conversion was improved by 9%, when 0.6% charcoal was included in the diet. It is suggested that the positive effect of the coconut shell charcoal on the growth rate and feed conversion of the broilers in the present experiment may have been related to its high, water retention capacity.

Key words: biochar, prebiotic, vegetal charcoal, water retention capacity


Cameroon, like many African countries, is experiencing significant population growth with increasing pressure on livestock production in general and on poultry in particular (Ghomsi et al 2017). Poultry meat contributes 4.1 kg/inhabitant/year, which means that only 16 g/inhabitant/year of protein is reached compared to the internationally recommended 30 g/inhabitant/day. This deficit is partially because of a limited poultry production characterized by low productivity. Contributing factors are the spread of disease in most poultry farms and poor quality of feed during storage due to effects of mold and other pathogenic microbes (Kana et al 2012).

In view of increasing restrictions in most countries on the use of antibiotics in livestock feeds, studies have been carried out on other additives such as probiotics and organic acids (Ahmad 2006; Murry et al 2004). Most of these additives are proprietary products and not within the reach of farmers in poor countries. It is therefore necessary to research on alternatives which are locally available. In this light, a recent study in Vietnam (Lan et al 2016) showed that adding charcoal to diets of striped catfish led to a 44% increase in growth rate and commensurate improvements in feed conversion. Addition of biochar (which is produced in a similar way to charcoal but at higher temperatures in a reduced supply of air) produced similar effects. Other studies have shown that activated charcoal (a similar product to biochar) can adsorb toxins from feed (Cooney 1980; Neuvonen and Olkkola 1988).

On the basis of these reports it was hypothesized that adding a low level of charcoal to broiler diets could lead to improved growth performance.

Materials and methods

Study site

The study was carried out at the experimental farm of the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD), Nkolbisson, situated in the western suburbs of Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon. The study site is located at 3° 86 longitude North and 11° 5 latitude East. This agro-ecological zone is characterized by minimum temperatures of 19 ° C and maximum of 29° C, a bimodal rainfall of 1500 to 2500 mm/year and a relative humidity that varies between 70 and 90%. The climate is sub-equatorial marked by four seasons (Ghomsi et al 2015).

Experimental birds and prophylaxis

Arbor acres unsexed broiler chicks (30-days-old; n=144) were purchased from a commercial supplier and raised for 30 days on a commercial starter ration. During this period, they were vaccinated against Newcastle disease (ND) and Infectious Bronchitis (IBD) on the 8th day and a booster dose was administered on the 14th day. Vaccination against Gumboro disease was done on the 10th day and a booster dose was given on the 23rd day. Before and during the study, vitamins and an anticoccidial medication (Vetacox) were administered in drinking water for three (3) consecutive days every week.

Sample preparation

Mature coconut shells were collected from a coconut market in Yaoundé and carbonized according to the traditional method for making charcoal. The hot embers were extinguished with water, sun-dried, ground and sieved and analyzed for water retention capacity (Lanh et al 2019) before being incorporating into the experimental diets.

Water retention capacity (WRC) of the coconut shell charcoal

The water retention capacity (WRC) of the coconut shell charcoal was determined by the method developed for biochar (Lanh et al 2019). 100g of oven-dry charcoal (Wi) (Photo1a) were suspended in 1 liter of water for 24h, after which it was filtered (Photo 1b), and the wet weight of the charcoal determined as Wf. The water retention capacity was determined as:

WRC = [Wf-Wi)]/Wi. (1)

Photos 1a and 1b. Oven dry coconut shell charcoal, before and after, being immersed 24h in water
Experimental diets and design

The chicks were randomly assigned to 9 groups of 16 chicks each balanced for sex (8 males and 8 females). They were raised on deep litter with a stocking density of 10 birds/m2. The treatments were: CTL: basal diet; CSC0.2 basal diet with 0.2% of charcoal; CSC0.6: basal diet with 0.6% charcoal. The chicks had feed (Table 1) and water ad libitum from 30 to 60 days of age.

Table 1. Control diet





Wheat bran


Soyabean cake


Cottonseed cake


Fish meal


Sea shell




Iron sulfate




Calculated composition, % in DM

Crude protein










Data collection

Feed intake was recorded daily and live weights weekly.

Statistical analysis

Data were assembled using MS Excel 2010. The weights, growth rate, feed conversion ratio and feed intake were subjected to analysis of variance in a completely randomized design according to the software of R Core Team (2019).

The statistical model was:

γij = μ + αi + eij where: γij is the dependent variable, μ = average, αi = effect of treatments and eij = the residual error.

Polynomial trends (MS Excel) were fitted to production traits (Y = feed intake, live weight gain, feed conversion) according to charcoal levels in the diet (X).


All production traits showed positive improvements as the level of charcoal in the diet was increased (Table 2; Figures 1-3). Feed intake was improved by 6.3%, weight gain by 14%, and feed conversion by 9%, when 0.6% charcoal was included in the diet.

Table 2. Comparative effects of coconut shell charcoal on broiler growth performance






Live weight, g          



















Feed intak, g






Feed conversion#






# Feed intake/weight gain

Figure 1. Relationship between feed intake
and charcoal level in the diet
Figure 2. Relationship between body weight gain
and charcoal level in the diet
Figure 3. Relationship between feed conversion
and charcoal level in the diet


In commenting on the positive effects of the coconut shell charcoal on the growth rate of the broilers in this experiment, it is relevant to compare the two products of biomass combustion (charcoal and biochar) which have been studied as additives in animal feed.

Charcoal and biochar are products of the combustion of fibrous biomass in a limited but variable supply of air, which gives rise to widely different temperatures. Charcoal is made in the almost complete absence of air so that the volatile compounds produced by heating are reabsorbed onto the surface or within the mass of the product (charcoal). In the making of biochar the supply of air is increased and some of the volatiles are burned which raises the temperature (to 500-700 °C); the remaining volatiles (carbon monoxide and hydrogen) are combusted directly in an IC engine or in a biogas cook stove. As a result of the lower temperature, charcoal has a higher content of organic matter present in the form of hydrocarbons (“bio-oil”).

The impact of rice husk biochar on plant growth was found to be linearly related to the water retention capacity (WRC) of the biochar which in turn was linearly and positively related to the temperature at which the biochar was produced (Lanh et al 2019).

Biochar has been used successfully as an additive (?prebiotic) in animal feed; for fish (Lan et al 2016) cattle (Leng et al 2012; Sengsouly and Preston 2017), for goats (Silivong et al 2015; Binh et al 2019) and for pigs (Sivilai et al 2018). One report of its use in poultry indicated no benefit (Hien et al 2019). It was postulated (Sivilai et al 2018) that the mode of action of biochar in animals was because its immense surface area (from 20 up to 100m2/g) served as a support medium for the formation of biofilms which in turn served as habitat for consortia of microorganisms in symbiosis with their nutrient-rich substrate. It is to be expected that the WRC of biochar and charcoal reflects their relative surface area and thus their capacity to provide habitat for microorganisms and their associated nutrients.

The WRC of the coconut shell charcoal used in this experiment was 5.22 ml/g which is only slightly less than the upper value (5.6) for the WRC of biochar produced from rice husk (variety IR50404) (Lanh et al 2019) and which supported highest growth rate of maize used as indicator plant in a bio-test. . It is suggested that the positive effect of the coconut shell charcoal on the growth rate and feed conversion of the broilers in the present experiment may have been related to its high WRC.

If the hypothesis is confirmed -- that the virtue of biochar and charcoal as potential prebiotics is related to the their Water Retention Capacity ( ipso facto their relative surface area) then this could be an explanation for the variable responses to charcoal fed to broilers as reported by many researchers (Kutlu et al 2000, Majewska et al 2001, Zhang et al 2005, Odunsi et al 2007, Chumpawadee et al 2008, Kana et al 2009, Kana et al 2012 and Jiya et al 2014).



We acknowledge Dr T R Preston for introducing us to biochar.


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Received 21 November 2019; Accepted 28 January 2020; Published 2 March 2020

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