Proper Live­stock Dis­posal


Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Kristi Cook

| 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.

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