Mortality Management

horse1None of us like to think about the death of a beloved equine companion.  Having a plan before it happens will make an emotional situation slightly easier.  PA law states that all dead animals must be properly handled within 48 hours of the animal’s passing.  In PA, legal handling of a deceased animal includes composting, rendering, burial and incineration.


Proper composting is convenient, affordable and requires minimal labor.  Composting is the microbial breakdown of organic matter.  It requires a proper “carbon to nitrogen” ratio, which can often be achieved when using stall bedding.  This is potentially convenient when a horse is euthanized on-site, and laid into a 2 foot deep prepared “bed” of a composting pile.  Composting is typically done in a free-standing pile on a well-drained surface.  A compost pile within a line of sight can offer emotional obstacles.  More composting information can be found at and Mortality Disposal Brochure or by contacting your local Penn State Extension office.  Shelly can also offer advice for mortality composting.



Rendering, when available, is convenient and requires minimal labor.  It can be expensive.  When picking up, the rendering truck should stay in an area away from animal housing or pastures, for biosecurity reasons.


Burial has the greatest number of considerations for the environment, public health and safety.  Burial sites need to be chosen carefully to prevent groundwater and well water contamination.  Adequate cover is crucial.  Burial requires equipment to lift large equine and dig deep enough holes.  Burial sites must be:

  • Located outside of the 100-yr flood plain
  • A minimum of 100 feet from waters of the Commonwealth (200 ft is recommended)
  • Covered with a minimum of 2 ft of soil

Burial sites should be:

  • Located within 100 ft from wells and sinkholes (200 feet is recommended)
  • At least 100 ft from property lines (200 ft is recommended)
  • Away from public view

Bottom of burial sites should be:

  • At least 2 ft above bedrock
  • At least 2 ft above seasonal high water table
  • At least 2 ft above highly permeable soils


Incineration is not practical for large horses.  It is expensive.  Incineration is NOT the same as “open air burning”, which is NOT a legal disposal method for any dead animal in PA.  Incineration requires a special unit, specifically designed for that purpose.

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