Proper Livestock Disposal
PLAN AHEAD TO DO IT CORRECTLY AND LEGALLY
| Plan ahead to do it correctly and legally
Have you ever tried to bury a horse with a shovel, or even a chicken in ground that’s frozen solid? Both are extremely difficult, even impossible. Cementing a livestock-disposal plan is necessary to prevent pests, foul odors, spread of disease and groundwater contamination. If your animals are anything like mine, the need for disposal will happen at inopportune times, so having at least one backup plan is a good idea, too.
Landfills, rendering and incineration are options available in many regions—as well as the more traditional burial and composting— making it easier than ever for individuals to customize a workable disposal plan for specific situations.
If your local landfill offers livestock disposal, this may be a good option, particularly if you lack the space or facilities for other methods. The most significant benefit to consider is the immediate elimination of concerns regarding disease transmission and groundwater contamination upon carcass removal. Other benefits include the lack of maintenance tasks that are common with traditional gravesites and composting systems, which often span several months as the remains decompose.
However, landfill disposal is often pricey and usually requires the livestock owner to have the necessary resources to safely transport the carcass to the landfill site. Various regulations may require disposal permits or a cause-of-death certificate from a local veterinarian stating the animal was disease-free and not chemically euthanized. Some municipalities also regulate which types of livestock they accept. For instance, goats, sheep and llamas may be acceptable, while horses, cows and wild game may not. As with any disposal method, research local regulations in advance to determine if this option is viable.
Incineration and Rendering
While incineration and rendering facilities are relatively few in the United States, these two options are worth the time it takes to determine if they’re available. Both methods carry the same benefits as landfill disposal with the addition of leaving behind a usable end product. For instance, professional incineration or cremation—not to be confused with open-air burning, which is illegal in many states—leaves behind nothing but ashes, which may then be carried home for burial or scattered in a field or garden. Rendering, on the other hand, basically “cooks” a carcass at high temperatures, producing bone meal and other feedstuffs that may be used as fertilizer or in animal feeds.
The potential drawbacks to consider are overall costs, transportation capabilities to the facility, and possibly being unable to collect the end products. Some facilities don’t allow clients to reclaim cremation ashes or rendered products, so when contacting these facilities, always ask these pertinent questions in advance to avoid disappointment later.
While burial is the most common disposal method, it’s also one of the most misunderstood. Too often improperly designed and poorly sited graves become banquet feasts to rodents and other scavengers as disgusting odors waft through the air, disturbing not only the neighbors, but also visitors and passersby.
“A major benefit for those living in regions with extreme weather is that composting is a year-round option, even when the ground is covered in ice or snow.”
Even worse, as creatures dig up and carry off pieces of decomposing carcasses, the spread of disease to existing livestock and even wildlife becomes a major concern. Sites located too close to groundwater further the potential for infectious disease transmission to both animals and humans alike.
Yet, proper burial sites that keep the environment safe, pleasant and pest-free are easily created and maintained. Most states and many localities regulate this practice with sound guidelines that consider the region’s specific soil types, hole depths, mounding height and proper site selection to reduce disease risks. These guidelines also provide the requirements for avoiding water contamination. Some county extension offices even send an agent to your location to help you determine the best site possible and ensure safety precautions are maintained.
The benefits of proper onsite burial are many. For starters, you need not worry about moving deceased livestock across town to the landfill or another facility. There’s usually no need for a cause-of-death certificate, and permits often aren’t required. If the deceased animal is a dear pet, this method ensures that gravesite visits are easy and accessible. Overall costs, especially if you already own the necessary equipment, are often minimal compared to the other options.
There are, of course, a few possible negatives, depending on your outlook. If you don’t have the necessary heavy equipment, you’ll either have to rent or borrow it. Even with good equipment, digging a hole to properly bury a large animal takes time and effort. Also, moving a large animal into the grave can, at times, be less than graceful and may disturb some family members, so care must be taken. Finally, gravesites tend to settle over time and may require remounding, which, again, may be problematic if you don’t own heavy equipment.
Did you know you can compost a cow? Now, before you turn the page, I’m not referring to the disturbing practice of leaving a carcass on the open ground uncovered. Fortunately, that practice is illegal in most states as the risks of disease transmission and groundwater contamination are high. Livestock composting, on the other hand, while it might sound somewhat gross or even a bit weird initially, is really nothing more than an aboveground gravesite with the carcass placed on top of a bed of litter (or other acceptable material) and completely covered with several more feet of the same material. In fact, the same processes that decompose the carcass below ground are basically the same during aboveground composting.
As for the benefits, there are several. Surprisingly, composting large livestock, when done properly, emits no foul odors and won’t attract scavengers; all while looking like nothing more than a giant heap of dirt sitting in your pasture. Disease transmission and water contamination risks are no higher than that of properly sited and maintained in-ground burials. Should you need to add another animal to the compost pile later—for instance, when another heifer dies during calving—it’s simply a matter of resizing the pile and adding more material.
A major benefit for those living in regions with extreme weather is that composting is a year-round option, even when the ground is covered in ice or snow. After a few months of waiting, you’ll be rewarded with an excellent end product that’s completely devoid of recognizable animal material (with the exception of a few small, but very brittle and crushable bones). This finished compost may then be applied to gardens and fields as a pathogen-free, highly usable fertilizer. Once all the compost is removed from the site, green grass will flourish, and no one will ever know what took place.
Like all good things, there are a few possible caveats to consider. Composting is also regulated, not only to avoid disease transmission and water contamination, but also to ensure neighbors, visitors and passersby aren’t adversely affected by repulsive odors, visible animal parts or an increase in rodents and other pests. Permits and/or cause-of-death certificates may be
“Even with good equipment, digging a hole to properly bury a large animal takes time and effort.”
required, but this is no different than most other methods.
Also, you’ll need to be extra careful with regulations that may or may not determine which specific materials are acceptable for the bedding and covering. Sufficient quantities of composting material in the form of old animal bedding, litter, finished compost, sawdust or whatever you choose from the allowed materials list must be readily available and easily moved to the desired location. Also, just like burials, you’ll need access to heavy equipment not only during set up, but also periodically during the composting process to add material as the pile’s size diminishes.
Plan in Place
Knowing your options and planning ahead for livestock disposal makes the dreaded day run more smoothly, all while ensuring disease-transmission and watercontamination risks are not overlooked. In the absence of preplanning, you may find yourself with a rapidly decomposing carcass on a hot August afternoon, as well as a few disturbed neighbors. Creating a livestock-disposal plan is effort well spent.
(above) Not all livestock may be disposed of in the same manner depending on your location, especially when you’re processing remains rather than entire carcasses. (opposite) Gaining a usable end product, such as compost, bone meal or animal...
When using the burial option, follow local guidelines and good common sense to ensure carcasses don’t become exposed and graves don’t collect stagnant water, which are both precursors to disease transmission and contaminated water systems.
Peacocks are exquisite, but people rarely consider that they don’t live forever. Plan in advance so you know what to do when the day comes.