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Use of attapulgite for bio-protection in livestock buildings

Use of attapulgite for bio-protection in livestock buildings

Attapulgite, a rare magnesium aluminosilicate mineral with a great surface area (250 m2/g) and adsorption capacity (200% water by weight), has some remarkable applications in livestock farming, such as: (a) a feed material with antidiarrheal action and effective protection of intestinal microfl ora of productive animals from pathogens leading to an enhancement of digestive function and as (b) a bio-protection conditioner in livestock buildings for its ability to reduce bacterial count, moisture of litter and emissions of ammonia. This article summarizes the bio-protection function of attapulgite for productive livestock buildings.

Actions of Attapulgite

Large surface area and hydration behavior

The large porosity and water absorption capacity of attapulgite can be exploited in agriculture (soil improvement), in animal feeding (antidiarrheal action and toxin binding), as well as in livestock farming (absorption of ammonia & humidity in buildings). The surface area of attapulgite is 250m2/g (if we open the surface of all pores, with only one gram of attapulgite, we can cover a surface of 250m2), that makes attapulgite the larger molecular “sponge” in comparison to other minerals such as zeolite, having a surface area of only 40 m2/g. This property is directly connected to the water absorption capability of the two minerals, e.g. for attapulgite 130% for the coarser and 200% for the finer particle sizes, while for the zeolite only 35 – 40% absorption. In the same way, through the porous structure of attapulgite, the absorption of ammonia takes place (figure 1).

Use in broilers’ buildings

In trials conducted in France and in Greece (Ross breed), attapulgite (brand AXORB®) used in granular form (diameter of particles 0.25 – 1.18 mm) was placed on top of the straw (figure 2) or sawdust and due to its large surface area and porous structure, it reduced the humidity of the litter by 3 – 5% (according to the case), with a consequent reduction of microbial load and ammonia in the buildings by 30 – 50% versus control, thus improving the hygiene and leading to enhanced production characteristics of broilers such as the F.C.R. (see Tables 1 and 2). The tests 1-5 (Table 1 & 2) refer to farms in Brittany-France with building surface of 2,000-3,000 m2 each and

corresponding number of broilers placed from 30.000 to 45.000. Attapulgite (AXORB®), having a water absorption capacity of about 150%, was added with a fertilizer spreader, before placing the birds, at a dosage of 1 Kg/mas shown in figure 2. Later on, on day 20 of the breeding cycle, attapulgite (AXORB®) was added manually (with scoop) at additional 0.35 Kg/m2. In similar buildings - Greek trials at Kolchiko - Northern Greece (Table 2 - trial 6) and Pisonas – Evia (Table 2 – trial 7), attapulgite was added in presence of birds on the 14th day and later on the 30th day, with a total addition of 1.5 kg/m2/breed on sawdust, having a thickness of 5-7 cm. This amount of attapulgite dries the litter and consequently minimizes the breast blisters because of the reduced microbial load and the hock burns due to reduced release of ammonia.


Figure 2: Application of attapulgite (ΑΧΟRB®) with fertilizer spreader on the straw, in broilers’  buildings in France.


It has been observed almost in most farms (5 farms out of 7) that with the use of AXORB® we have a better F.C.R., that seems to be directly related to hygiene and health in the buildings (reduced humidity and ammonia). Respectively, in 2 out of the 7 farms no signifi cant differences in the F.C.R were observed.

Mixed attapulgite /saponite minerals of Geohellas, such as AXORB® A/S with particle size of 0.25 – 0.85 mm, exhibited a water absorption of up to 400%, while saponite, belonging to the family of bentonites, has a different crystal structure than attapulgite and absorbs water through clumping. Attapulgite, because of its special structure, binds water through its internal porosity, without becoming muddy and without creating clumping aggregates as other bentonite minerals do, while the big difference in its water absorption (150%) in comparison to zeolite (40%) makes it very useful in such applications.

Respectively, the levels of ammonia in livestock buildings in Megara (Attica-Greece) were reduced from 60 – 80 ppm (controls) to 10 –15 ppm, when the addition of attapulgite (AXORB® A/S) 1.5 kg/m2 was directly on the concrete fl oor and before introducing a rice cortex substrate. This means that attapulgite/saponite, when wetted, forms a solid crust under the rice cortex and traps the released ammonia.

Furthermore, in trials conducted by the Technological Educational Institute of Epirus in commercial broiler farms in Arta using attapulgite in feed (at a percentage of 0.3% or 3 kg per ton of feed), continuous recordings on environmental conditions in the buildings were made, including the recording of ammonia as shown in figure 3, which demonstrated that attapulgite, when present in feed, binds ammonium resulting from the degradation of proteins in the digestive system, contributing significantly at the reduction of ammonia in the buildings with values corresponding to those mentioned above.


Figure 3: Monitoring of ammonia in livestock that uses attapulgite in the feed.

Special applications in horses

In special applications for racing horses, AXORB® was applied on the stables’ concrete floors (Figure 4 / Olympic Hippodrome of Spata-Greece) before the addition of sawdust to 1/3 of the surface, with the objective of reducing ammonia release and lowering microbial levels on the fl oor due to reduced moisture. The quantity of AXORB® used was 2 Kg/m2. Special AXORB® Eucalyptus enriched with Eucalyptus essential oils, provides freshness in the air inside the box.


Figure 4: Using attapulgite (AXORB®) as substrate in horses boxes before placing the sawdust.

Use of attapulgite in pigs

Attapulgite can be spread on the surface of the body of piglets (brand AXORB®-F Willow, micronized attapulgite containing silver ions with antimicrobial function) at first day after birth in a similar way to talcum, in order to absorb the birth liquids and to stop bleeding and sterilize the navel of the piglet. The thin layer of attapulgite pasted on the body of the piglet helps with body heat retention on the first day of birth. AXORB®-F Willow is also used on the floor of the piglets for reducing humidity and microbial load (up to day 28 after birth/figure 5). AXORB®-F Willow is also used in fattening pigs, prolonging the cleaning time of the fl oors, as it keeps the concrete floor drier.

A comparative study on the reduction of polluting gases and ammonia using...

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