According to a University of Georgia poultry specialist, if chickens eat a bit of charcoal it helps lower the amount of ammonia in their manure, which can lead to happier, healthier and more environmentally friendly chickens.

Casey Ritz, a UGA Cooperative Extension poultry scientist, has been researching charcoal as an additive to poultry bedding to control ammonia levels in chicken houses for the past four years. It was working, but he thought charcoal might be able to do more from inside the chicken.

“Our question was, ‘if we feed it to chickens, could we stop ammonia production before it hits the ground?’” he said.

High levels of ammonia in litter can affect a chicken’s growth and performance.

One group of chickens was given feed with charcoal added. Another group received normal feed without charcoal. Ritz and his colleagues then took the chicken manure and incubated it. They found a significant drop in the amount of ammonia in the manure of the chickens fed the charcoal compared to the chickens who ate regular feed, he said.

The researchers were initially worried that the chickens might not eat feed with charcoal in it. Chicken feed is usually light brown. The charcoal turns it black. Fortunately, the color didn’t bother the chickens. And, thanks to the charcoal’s affect on manure color, the researchers knew without a doubt which chickens had charcoal in their diets.