Specific disposal techniques are recommended for the safety of the environment, humans and other animals

While unpleasant, livestock producers must sometimes deal with the loss of an animal due to injury or illness, and processing that animal into meat is not an option in many cases. So what should producers do with the remains of that animal?

A common practice to dispose of animal carcasses has been to simply leave them in a remote area of the farm to allow nature to take its course. While “out of sight, out of mind” may be a common practice, it’s not a sanitary option, and it also maybe prohibited by law.

Agriculture officials also caution against leaving carcasses to decay in the open because it could contribute to the spread of disease to other livestock or wildlife.

Producers have the option of incinerating, burying, composting or rendering animal carcasses. Unfortunately, the Ozarks lack companies to remove deceased livestock, leaving the task of removal to the producer. For those with have smaller animals, disposal via composting or incinerating are viable options, but larger animals, including cattle and horses, there are far fewer choices.


The most common method of disposal, as well as the least desirable due to the potential for ground and surface water contamination, is to bury carcasses.

The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service recommends deceased animals be covered with at least 2 feet of soil. They must also be at least 100 yards from a well or surface water to prevent contaminated. Placing a dead animal in a location that might contaminate surface water or wells is illegal in Arkansas.

Arkansas veterinarian Dr. Tim O’Nell recommends animals be buried at least 6-feet into the ground. He also recommends that producers put a layer of lime on top of the carcass.

In Oklahoma, state statutes require the burial site to be at least 300 feet away from any wells, public area or property lines, and be covered with at least 2.5 feet of top soil after being placed in a pit.

Burial sites should also be away from any wells, surface water intake structures, springs, public drinking water supply lakes, or sinkholes. Low areas should also be avoided.

Incineration or burning

Arkansas allows for the incineration or open burning of animal carcasses, as long as the carcass is reduced to ash.

O’Neill said the use of firewood, typically a rick and a half or two ricks, will produce enough heat and burn long enough to properly dispose of a cow carcass.

In Oklahoma, on the other hand, open burning is not allowed and incineration requires a self-contained incinerator. Depending on the size of the carcass, an air-quality permit may be required by the Department of Environmental Quality.


Composting allows a producer to “recycle” the animal into fertilizer for fields and pastures. Composting has proven to be a very effective means of carcass management in the poultry and swine industries. Composting is a naturally occurring process in which the dead animal is broken down into basic elements (organic matter) by microorganisms, bacteria and fungi.

Composting has advantages over other methods of carcass disposal, including lower costs, easy-to-prepare piles and windrows created with available on-farm machinery, and lower risk of air and water pollution when done properly. Proper composting techniques will destroy most disease-causing bacteria and viruses. The main benefit of composting is that pathogens are destroyed during composting and any leach from decaying carcasses is contained and absorbed by the carbon material.

Producers who opt for composting are encouraged to contact their local Extension service.


Arkansas allows farmers to dispose of carcasses through extrusion. Extrusion involves cooking the carcass for an extended period, then pressing it into pellets or another form of animal feed. Cooking carcasses for swine feed requires high heat. While an approved method, Arkansas livestock producers, according to the University of Arkansas Extension Cooperative Service, do not have the facilities to utilize extrusion.

Sanitary landfills

Sanitary landfills, which are designed and operated to prevent leaching into ground or surface water, are permitted to accept dead animals. While all sanitary landfills are allowed to accept dead animals, it may not be the policy of the landfill operator.

O’Neil said he was unaware of any landfills in the immediate region that accept animal carcass.

Failure to comply

Livestock owners and care takers are subject to misdemeanor charges if animal carcasses are not property disposed of.


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