Have you ever tried to bury a horse with a shovel? Or a chicken in frozen ground? To avoid such difficulties and to prevent the spread of disease, groundwater contamination, foul odors, and pests, it’s wise to create a solid, actionable livestock disposal plan ahead of time. Landfills, rendering, and incineration are options available in many regions as well as the more traditional burial and composting, making a customized plan easier than ever.
Utilizing your local landfill is a good option, particularly if you lack the space, equipment, or facilities for other methods. The most significant benefit is the immediate elimination of the risk for disease transmission and groundwater contamination once the carcass is removed. Other benefits include the lack of maintenance tasks common with traditional gravesites and composting systems.
However, this option can be pricey and often requires livestock owners to have the ability to transport carcasses to the landfill. Regulations may also require disposal permits or a cause of death certificate from a veterinarian stating the animal was disease free and not chemically euthanized. Landfills also tend to regulate which species of livestock they will accept.
Incineration and rendering
While there are only a few of these facilities in the U.S., these two options are worth consideration when available. Boasting the same benefits as landfills, professional incineration — 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.
Potential drawbacks include overall expense, transportation capabilities, and a loss of end products. Some facilities do not allow clients to reclaim ashes or rendered products, so be sure to ask ahead of time to avoid being disappointed.
Most livestock disposal methods include a need for various types of heavy equipment, making preplanning even more important.
While burial is the most common disposal method, it is also the most misunderstood. Too often, improperly designed and poorly sited graves become banquet halls to rodents and other scavengers even as disgusting odors waft through the air, disturbing the neighbors, visitors and passersby. Even worse, as creatures dig up and carry off pieces of decomposing carcasses, the spread of disease to existing livestock and wildlife becomes a great concern. Sites located too close to groundwater further the potential for disease transmission to both animals and humans.
Yet, burial sites that keep not only the environment safe but also pleasant and pest free are easy to create and maintain. To assist in this task, most states and many localities regulate burials with guidelines that consider the region’s specific soil types, proper site selection, hole depths, and mounding height. Some extension offices will even send an agent to your location to help you predetermine the best site possible and guide you in the process to ensure safety precautions are maintained.
The benefits of onsite burial are many. You don’t have to move carcasses across town, and there’s usually no need for a cause of death certificate or permits. If the deceased is an endeared pet, gravesite visits are easily accessible. Overall costs, especially if you own the necessary equipment, are minimal compared to the other options.
There are, of course, a few negatives, depending on your outlook. If you do not have the necessary equipment, you’ll have to rent or borrow it. You do have to spend a decent amount of time digging a large hole or hire it out. Also, moving large animals into the grave can be less than graceful and may be disturbing to some family members, so care should be taken if sensitivities are present. And finally, graves tend to settle over time and may require re-mounding, which, again, may be a problem if you don’t own your own equipment.
Poorly maintained graves like this one allow for grave collapse, stagnated and contaminated water, exposed carcasses, and disease transmission.
Did you know you can compost a cow? Livestock composting is nothing more than an aboveground grave with the carcass placed on top of a bed of a litter and completely covered with several more feet of the same material. The processes that decompose the carcass below ground are basically the same during aboveground composting.
As for benefits, there are several. Properly composting livestock emits no foul odors and will not attract animals — 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 have the need to add another animal to the composting pile at a later date, it’s a fairly simple matter of resizing the pile and adding more material. Another major benefit is that composting is an option year round, 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 devoid of recognizable animal material (with the exception of a few small, but very brittle and crushable bones) that may then be applied to gardens and fields as a pathogen-free fertilizer.
Like all good things, there are a few things 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. Permits and/or cause of death certificates may be required, while regulations may determine which materials may be used for the bedding and covering. Sufficient quantities of composting material must also be readily available and easily moved to the desired location. And just as in burials, you will need to have access to heavy equipment not only during setup, but also periodically to add material to the pile as it diminishes in size.
Planning ahead for livestock disposal makes the dreaded day run more smoothly, all while ensuring disease transmission and water contamination risks are not overlooked. So make your plans now, while your livestock are young and healthy.