Composting Routine Mortalities from Backyard Poultry Flocks

In this video we will show you how we can successfully compost routine poultry mortalities from a small backyard flock of up to 300 birds. Composting, if done properly kills potential pathogens or disease-causing organisms and can be done on-site to limit the risk of spreading disease. Composting in a contained vessel will protect the carcass from vectors and scavengers during the decomposition process. Good bio-security measures are important. It’s also important to understand that the manure bedding and other healthy birds may have been exposed to whatever it was that caused the animal to die. Here we take manure, bedding, along with other bulking agent to help prepare the mortalities for composting. If you’re not using a contained vessel to properly insulate the mortality and create high enough temperatures, you may require up to 2 cubic meters of additional bulking agent. A good bulking agent should be able to generate temperatures high enough to kill potential pathogens. If enough bulking agent is not available, boiling the carcass for at least an hour will ensure that all of it has reached temperatures high enough to kill potential disease-causing organisms. The carcass can then be placed in a contained composting vessel where it is protected from vectors and scavengers as it decomposes. There are a number of options for smaller contained composters. It is important that the material in the composter is exposed to air and yet protected from animals. One option is the small rotating composters that can be turned to provide oxygen for the microbes decomposing the carcass. In this particular demonstration, we use a small insulated bin that allows warm air to rise and exit the bin, drawing cooler air in at the bottom under a plastic grate. Another option is to build a contained composting unit that allows air exchange and yet prevent scavengers and rodents from entering the bin. It is best to bury the carcass at least six inches below the surface of the material. Ground green waste or yard waste is an excellent material for composting the carcass in because it contains energy and it is porous which allows air to move through the material. Adding some poultry litter to this green waste provides additional energy to speed decomposition. We recommend using some of the litter around where the animal died, if available, as this litter may also contain disease-causing organisms. In this video we used a 50-50 blend, by volume, of ground yard waste and poultry litter. We blend it with a shovel and added one garbage bucket full to the bin before placing the carcass in it, and then added another bucket full to cover the carcass. We added a small amount of wood shavings for additional insulation and odor control. We recommend mixing the contents of the composter in approximately two weeks when the carcass is already mostly decomposed. A compost aerator does a great job of this. This will further expose the remaining bits of the bird to the microbes to speed up decomposition. Waiting the two weeks will ensure that most of the carcass stays buried in the compost pile for the initial decomposition. Additional birds can be added to the composting bin as required. The final product can be used as a soil amendment for plant growth in the garden or in the fields, whenever the weather permits. We encourage you to consult the Ministry of Agriculture fact sheets for more information, including provincial regulations in British Columbia.

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