Submitted to: Cow Country News
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: May 28, 2009
Publication Date: June 19, 2009
Citation: Looper, M.L. Whole Animal Composting of Beef Cattle. Cow Country News. Volume 22 (6):20-21, 23. Interpretive Summary: Even the most well managed beef operations can experience animal loss each year due to weather, natural causes, and/or illness. With the environmental concerns of buried carcasses and the prohibition of feeding animal-derived proteins to cattle due to the possibility of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, cost of removing mortalities from the farm have increased. ARS scientist from Booneville, AR summarized previous research approaches for whole carcass disposal. This increased understanding will allow producers to use whole animal composting as an environmentally safe and economically feasible method of disposal of on-farm mortalities. This information is of interest to livestock producers, extension personnel, and agricultural professionals who advise producers on livestock management practices.
Technical Abstract: Composting is the natural decomposition of organic materials by microorganisms that require oxygen. Although many aspects of composting are not exact, there are several factors that affect the success of the composting process which are 1) carbon and nitrogen ratios (C:N ratio), 2) moisture content, 3) particle size, 4) oxygen concentrations, and 5) temperature. Site selection is important to the overall success of the composting procedure. Construction of the compost pile should begin by placing a plastic liner (6-mil) 10 to 12 feet wide and the length of the pile or windrow. Next, place a base of compost materials (manure and straw/old feedstuffs) on top of the plastic liner approximately 1.5 to 2 feet deep. In a properly managed compost pile, the core temperature of the pile should reach 145'F in 3 to 4 days. After approximately 2 weeks, volume of the pile will reduce to 1/2 its original size; the pile then should be turned. Decomposition of a mature cow carcass generally takes 6 to 8 months with a few small bones remaining. The remaining bones will be soft and shatter easily when passed through a manure spreader during land application. By following a few general composting recommendations, whole animal composting can be a successful, environmentally safe, and economically feasible method to dispose of on-farm mortalities. Remember, composting procedures are not absolute and are somewhat forgiving. Trial and error accompanied with close monitoring of pile characteristics will usually produce successful results. It is advised that prior to implementing whole animal composting on your farm, check local and state requirements regulating animal mortality disposal.