Composting Large Animal Mortalities on Farm

In this video we will demonstrate how we can
safely and effectively compost an entire cow. This video describes a beneficial management
practice for composting large hoofstock such as cattle or horses on farms in British Columbia. Composting is safer and more environmentally
sustainable than burial and is an excellent option if a deadstock pickup service is not
available. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency may have
restrictions on how the compost from cattle may be used, so it’s best to consult with
provincial or federal regulations. The large hoofstock can be composted together
with manure and bedding or other suitable bulking agents, either in a specified area
on the farm or in the field. It is important to compost on an impermeable
surface to reduce the risk of ground or surface water contamination, particularly in areas
that receive high rainfall, such as the lower mainland or Vancouver Island. This will also help contain any fluids that
may be released from the animal as it begins to decompose. Suitable solid manure storage facilities can
also be used. Large animals can be composted whole, but
it is very important that the animal have a minimum of 60 centimeters depth of bulking
agent on top, on the bottom and on all sides. This is particularly important during the
winter months to ensure adequate insulation, allowing the temperature of the decomposing carcass
to reach 55 degrees Celsius or higher. The bulking agent is usually a mixture of
manure, bedding, and potentially wasted feed. The rule of thumb is that the bulking agent
must allow free air transfer through the material yet have enough available energy to heat up
in a pile on its own. The material below the animal should be drier
to allow absorption of some of the approximately 300 liters of body fluids released from an
adult animal as it begins to decompose. It is recommended to tie the legs of the animals
so that they stay nestled inside the compost pile during early decomposition. The goal of the compost process is to achieve
temperatures of 55 degrees Celsius for at least 3 days which kills potential disease-causing
organisms, as well as speeds up decomposition. The faster the temperature increases, the
less likely that scavengers will disturb the pile. If there are concerns with large scavengers,
such as bears, an electric bear fence will provide a deterrent. In high rainfall areas such as the lower mainland
or Vancouver Island, the composting carcass should be covered with a permanent roof or
covered with a breathable material such as Typar or Tyvek, products that are readily
available and normally used in house construction. The pile containing the carcass should be
mixed 1 month after beginning composting in order to break up remaining parts of the carcass
and redistribute moisture. We can expect a secondary heating phase which
will help further decompose remaining material. If the animal is being composted on the range
or on a farm with a lot of available land, the carcass can be left for up to a year to
allow further decomposition. Even a simple, but well managed compost process
will have a greater likelyhood of killing potential disease-causing organisms or pathogens
than burial. We encourage you to consult the Ministry of
Agriculture fact sheets for more information on the process including regulations for composting
and the use of compost. Bones should be removed from the compost before
spreading. The resulting compost is an excellent soil
amendment and can be spread when the weather permits

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