Agriculture news: Composting animals is an accepted method

By Keenan Bishop, Agriculture Extension Agent Published:

According to the latest census, Franklin County has more than 14,000 head of cattle, 1,200 horses and ponies, 1,500 laying hens and almost 1,000 sheep and goats. The number of hogs was too low to report.

Commercial livestock production brings in more than $10 million to local farms, which in turn circulates through the community.

One aspect of raising an animal is that, just like with humans, they don’t live forever. Animal deaths are an expected part of animal production. UK Publication ID-167 “On-farm Disposal of Animal Mortalities” provides guidance to the producer for handling animal deaths in accordance with Kentucky law.

The rates of deaths are somewhat dependent on management, according to this publication. For instance, mature swine, beef and dairy animals are expected to die at a rate of up to 2 percent, which is an annual rate based on the average number on the farm, with above-average management.

Poor management can produce mature animal losses greater than 5 percent. The highest rates of mortalities are with younger animals (birth to weaning), with losses of 10-12 percent, which is an average rate based on the number of animals in the group. In addition to deaths, afterbirth from breeding animals also needs to be disposed of properly.

Disposing of dead animals and afterbirth can be difficult. Placing a dead animal or animal parts in a sinkhole, stream, or wooded area or leaving it to decompose are not acceptable methods of disposal. This action would be considered creating an open dump, which is against the law (KRS 224.40-100).

Acceptable methods for disposing of dead animals in Kentucky (KRS 257.160) are incineration, burial, removal by a licensed rendering company (which is no longer available in central Kentucky), disposal at an approved landfill (which is what Franklin County currently does), and composting (which is what Fiscal Court is currently considering).

Whichever acceptable method you choose, it must be accomplished within 48 hours of the animal’s death, unless the animal is stored in a cooler. The KRS is specific about where and how to bury.

Another option that many producers take advantage of is the UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. When you have an unusual or unexpected death this can be a valuable tool. For a fee, the lab will perform a necropsy (animal autopsy) to help determine the cause of death. To find out more see http://vdl.uky.edu/Home.aspx.

Composting can provide animal producers with a convenient method for disposing of dead animals while providing a valuable soil amendment when land applications are made. The compost material can also be stored and reused to decompose other dead animals.

Reusing the material actually speeds up the decomposition process by providing beneficial bacteria. These bacteria also prevent the release of odors, which may attract flies, vermin and buzzards.

Kentucky law (KRS 257.160(1)(f)) allows disposal of animal carcasses by composting if the disposal is performed according to the Agricultural Board’s administrative regulations (302 KAR). A permit and registration with the state veterinarian is no longer required for agricultural operations to compost dead animals in Kentucky if the composting operation is not being used for a commercial purpose. Additional information can be found in the UK publication titled ID-166, “On-Farm Composting of Animal Mortalities” found at  http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id166/id166.pdf.

Currently, livestock owners can take advantage of the Deceased Animal Removal Program currently funded by the Fiscal Court through the Road Department and the Franklin County Conservation District. By calling 502-875-8760 during business hours you can schedule to have a dead animal removed and safely disposed of at no cost. The animal must be accessible from a county or state road and is then transported to the landfill by an approved and inspected vehicle.

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  • Thank you for providing factual and objective informaiton about this process.  I hope the residents of Arnold Ridge are reading this.