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Livestock Mortality Composting Manual

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When concerns about mad cow disease reduced rendering service availability and also increased the cost of using this service, livestock producers needed alternatives for disposing of livestock mortalities. But it needed to be a method that would protect the environment from contamination and prevent the spread of pathogens to live animals. So staff from Universities and the NRCS in four western states (Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming) collaborated on a project to provide information about composting as a way to safely dispose of dead animals.  Funded by the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (WSARE) program, the finished “Livestock Mortality and Composting Manual” covers the ins and outs of composting as a safe and affordable alternative. While it focuses on how composting might work for producers in the semi-arid west, there’s plenty of good information for producers everywhere.

The manual is great at pointing out when composting may not be appropriate. Here it covers information on goats and sheep. There is also a section on the Prion diseases (BSE, CDW) and composting
The manual is great at pointing out when composting may not be appropriate. Here it covers information on goats and sheep. There is also a section on the Prion diseases (BSE, CDW) and composting

Why Compost?

Many of our past methods of carcass disposal come with their own problems.  The past practice of dragging the body off to the boneyard is illegal now in most states because of the potential for disease spread, threat to water quality, and because they smell bad and attract flies and rodents. Maintaining hot enough temperatures to burn a carcass is very difficult, and most of us don’t have our own incineration facilities. Most people bury dead animals, although some states have outlawed this. There are concerns about water pollution and carcasses can degrade very slowly, allowing pathogens to persist.  Meanwhile, mortality composting is increasingly popular due to cost savings, reduced environmental risks, and the generation of a useful end-product.

Composting as “Microorganism Farming”

When you compost your job is to provide optimum conditions so that the bacteria and fungi can do their jobs. These microorganisms need four things to be successful:  carbon (C), nitrogen (N), water and oxygen.  The manual describes the ratio you need to be successful, and how to run a simple “squeeze test” to be sure your mix is moist enough.  There’s a chart of materials you can include to provide carbon for your workers, instructions for how to prepare and place carcasses, depths of the surrounding composting materials, and tips on maintaining good composting temperatures. You’ll also find information on your “compost farm” location, how to figure out what kind of equipment you might need (with an emphasis on cost efficiencies), tools for budgeting for a compost set up, and issues you need to be aware of as you plan for composting. The authors also remembered that we really need help in emergencies, so they covered potential situations and how to respond to them.

Information on regulations for mortality composting are included for Colorado, Montana, New Mexico or Wyoming. Our readers in other states will want to check on regulations for their own states before beginning.

What I like best about this manual is that it’s short, but thorough. It’s organized so that we can quickly understand the process and its requirements with examples of how to adapt it to a variety of operations.  Check it out.  I think you’ll like it!

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. Interesting document. I have been composting animals on farm for over 15 years, everything from poultry, hogs, sheep, goats, cattle and llamas have gone into the compost. We had to learn how to do this successfully as we did a lot of on farm slaughter for the community. The main key we found (anecdotal evidence but the compost always seemed to process faster with minimal odors) was to remove the paunch, and open both the stomach and upper intestine spreading the contents across as much surface area before covering. We think this places the bacteria that process feed in the animals gut in direct contact with the carbon in the compost pile, rather than having it killed off in an anaerobic environment while the carcass remains sealed. It can be a messy job, but if you are accustomed to butchering it is fairly easy. Also to quarter the animal and expose as much to increase the contact surface with the carbon additionally seemed to help the compost process.

    Best of all what it does for the soil, makes some incredible pasture.

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