Disposing of deceased farm animals presents many options to the farmer. Composting the deceased animal is likely the best choice for increased animal, environmental and farm fiscal health, and is considered a best management practice (BMP).
Two composting styles exist. First is the pile method. This method is preferred for larger animals including horses and cows. A carcass is contained to its pile and is managed separately from other carcass piles. It’s recommended a bin be used in order to contain the carbon material and to prevent nuisance animals from digging into the pile.
The second composting approach is the windrow method. This technique is preferred for smaller animals such as chickens. Several carcasses are combined into one row and are completely surrounded by a carbon source. Carcasses and carbon can continually be added to the row.
Three Steps to Composting:
1. Find a suitable site for the carcasses.
The site should be located on high ground away from runoff water paths and isolated from the rest of the farming operation. The site should be located near the equipment that will be used to move the carcass.
2. Prepare the pad for the carcasses.
The best pad is made from a carbon source such as wood shavings or hay and is at least two feet thick. The edge of the pad should extend two feet from the carcass. The pad needs to be watered until the moisture content is 50 percent, before the carcass is placed. If water quality is a concern in the area, manure and chicken litter cannot be used as carbon materials.
3. Place carcass on pad and cover with two feet of carbon material.
It’s important that the carbon materials covering the carcass be properly maintained to prevent the escape of gases from the compost pile. The pile may be mixed and restacked after three months to continue composting for another two months. If the pile is not restacked, composting time will take close to one year.
Two Benefits of Composting Dead Animals
1. The farm operation saves money by not incurring transportation costs and incinerator fuel costs.
2. The environment benefits from composting as well. Carcass pathogens are contained to the compost pile and not transferred to ponds and streams.
For more information on composting principles contact your local extension agency.
John Pennington is the agriculture and water quality specialist with the University of Arkansas Washington County Extension office, in Fayetteville, Ark.