Composting Routine Mortalities on Commercial Poultry Farms

In this video we will demonstrate how we can successfully compost routine mortalities from poultry broiler flocks. This video describes the beneficial management practice for composting routine mortalities from commercial poultry operations in British Columbia. Composting is an acceptable method of managing animal mortalities and can be done on the farm, reducing potential bio-security risks associated with moving poultry off the farm. There are two options for composting routine poultry mortalities. For producers who have a suitable manure storage facility composting mortalities in the poultry litter is an effective method of disposal; the manure facilitates rapid decomposition of the carcass. For producers who do not have a suitable solid manure storage facility, we recommend composting carcasses in a contained vessel to protect the carcasses from scavengers and rodents. Maintaining bio-security is a very important part of effective poultry mortality management. There are several options for contained composters. Commercially available rotating composters are very effective for composting mortalities. One important consideration with composting is that the carcasses require bulking agents such as sawdust, green waste or manure to speed up the compost process. The rule of thumb is that the best bulking agent will heat up in a pile on its own. In this video, we use an insulated plastic container fitted with a plastic grate at the bottom to allow air distribution and an air exit hole at the top. A similar type of vessel can also be constructed with wood. Insulation helps to achieve temperatures high enough to kill potential disease-causing organisms. Heat generated during the compost process exits the container at the top allowing cooler air to be drawn in through a grate at the bottom of the bin. This provides adequate oxygen for the microbes decomposing the carcass. We composted one week’s accumulation of mortalities at a broiler breeder operation. The birds were frozen during the week and placed in the bin all at one time. The total of thirty-six adult birds or a hundred and twenty five kilograms were composted in a 1 cubic meter capacity bin. A rule of thumb is that the bulking agent carcass ratio should be at least 1:1 by volume. In this particular case because the birds were frozen we use the volume ratio of 3.5:1 bulking agent to carcasses. The birds can also be added more frequently, which typically requires less bulking agent. We begin with a 15 centimeter layer of ground green waste at the bottom of the bin to create an absorbent layer underneath the composting birds and to encourage the natural convective air exchange to supply adequate oxygen for the microbes decomposing the birds. We place a layer of birds, followed by a layer of bulking agent. In this case we used a 50-50 blend by volume of poultry litter and ground green waste as the bulking agent. It is important to cover the final layer of birds with at least 15 centimeters of the bulking agent to provide insulation and odor control. The goal of the compost process is to achieve temperatures of 55 degrees Celsius for at least three days, which kills potential disease-causing organisms as well as speed up the decomposition. A full bin of composting carcasses should be left undisturbed for a minimum of two weeks to allow the flesh to decompose. Mixing it redistributes the moisture and breaks up remaining material, encouraging final decomposition of any remaining bones, feathers or flesh. This results in a secondary heating of the material to further eliminate any potentially harmful organisms. The size of the bin can be matched with the estimated volume of mortalities or multiple bins can be used with larger flocks. The bins are emptied using a loader or small Bobcat; remaining bones can be further composted in a pile, if necessary, or returned back into the bin. The final product can be used then as soil amendment for plant growth in the garden or in the fields as the weather permits. We encourage you to consult the Ministry of Agriculture fact sheets for more information including provincial regulations.

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