Properly managing and disposing of dead farm animals is necessary. Every livestock, poultry and equine operations must follow a legal disposal method as defined in the PA Domestic Animal Act. The four legal methods of disposal are mortality composting, rendering, incineration and burial. Consider neighbor relations and nuisances that may be created by your chosen disposal method.
Disposal of animals on top of the ground, and uncovered, hoping they will be eaten or decompose, is not legal, nor professional.
Due to rendering no longer being available for bovine and sheep, and due to rendering’s high expense for other livestock and poultry, mortality composting is the recommended disposal method of livestock, poultry and equine in Pennsylvania. When managed properly, composting is convenient, affordable and requires minimal labor. Properly managed composting facilities do not have problems from rodents, predators, flies or odors.
Composting is the microbial breakdown of organic matter to a more stable material and requires a proper “carbon to nitrogen” ratio.
As written in Cornell Waste Management Institute’s publication, Natural Rendering: Composting Livestock Mortality and Butcher Waste, “The temperatures achieved during composting will kill or greatly reduce most pathogens, reducing the chance to spread disease. Properly composted material is environmentally safe and a valuable soil amendment for growing certain crops.”
Basic instructions for composting using a static pile include:
- Have a base of at least 2 ft depth of bulky, absorbent organic material with a high carbon content. Examples include wood-chip waste, mulch or straw.
- Place deadstock or poultry in the middle of the pile so that there is at least 2 ft of the base material on all sides of the carcass.
- Lancing the rumen of larger animals is recommended to avoid explosion during decomposition.
- Place a minimum of 2 ft depth of a dry, high-carbon material on top of and all around the carcass(es). Having nitrogen in this material is desirable to expedite the process, such as old silage, mulch, refused feed, old hay, and/or straw bedding with manure in it.
- Monitor moisture. Too much causes odors and doesn’t allow the composting process to work properly. Too little slows the process as well.
- Monitor internal temperature of the pile. Long handled thermometers are ideal. The static pile should heat to 140 degrees in four weeks, killing most pathogens and weed seeds.
In three months, all soft tissue should be decomposed and the bones are clean. After four months the compost pile can be turned to increase aeration and help accelerate the last steps of composting. At 6-9 months the compost is ready to be used as a soil additive.
Additional information about mortality composting can be found at
- or by contacting your local Penn State Extension office.