Animal Mortality Management Conservation Practices A Virtual Tour

Managing mortalities (dead animals) falls into two categories for livestock and poultry farms. One is routine mortalities occurring during normal operation. The other is catastrophic or emergency mortalities resulting from weather events, building failure, disease, or other disaster.

Animal Mortality Facility (316)

An animal mortality facility is a location on the farm designated and equipped for handling a routine number of carcasses in the production system. There are many different ways to dispose of carcasses and several factors involved to help a farm select the best system. Aesthetics should also be a strong consideration as dead animals are unpleasant for most people to view. Photos 1-5 show animal mortality facilities on five different farms.

Natural Resource Benefits. A properly designed and managed mortality disposal system protects ground and surface water from contamination by carcasses or runoff/leaching from areas containing carcasses. This practice should also prevent the spread of pathogens off the site as well as protect the biosecurity of the farm by preventing off-farm pathogens from being introduced during pickup or handling of carcasses by contractors or service providers.

Photos described clockwise starting upper left. Photo 1: An incinerator installed on a poultry farm handles routine numbers of dead birds. Photo 2: A drum composter on a turkey farm. Carbon material &carcasses are added at the back and compost is discharged at the front (right). Photo 3: This dairy farm composts mortalities on a concrete pad. Photo 4: This covered shed with multiple bays allows this dairy farm to build a new compost pile for each mortality. Photo 5: This shed holds freezers to store poultry mortalities until picked up for rendering. (Photo credit: Farm Freezers, Inc.)

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Emergency Animal Mortality Management (368)

A natural disaster, structural failure, or disease outbreak can result in the deaths of dozens, hundreds, thousands, or more animals on a farm. Having a plan for handling a catastrophic situation is essential to protect natural resources and prevent (if applicable) animal diseases from spreading. Animal agriculture operations can receive assistance during an emergency (the purpose of this conservation practice), but farmers and ranchers should also consider working with NRCS or other agencies before an emergency occurs. Doing so can allow a farm to pre-select a burial site (Photos 1-3), should it ever be needed, and/or source enough carbon-containing material to compost large numbers of carcasses (Photo 4).

Natural Resource Benefits. In an emergency situation, large numbers of animal carcasses have the potential to degrade water quality by direct contact with water or runoff/leaching of liquid that has come into contact with the carcasses. A properly constructed and managed storage or disposal site will prevent this by containing runoff and preventing leaching. Properly managing this situation protects air quality by reducing or preventing odors and by preventing air pollutants that result from undesirable practices such as open pit burning. Another benefit of an emergency mortality management plan is preventing the spread of pathogens off-site to nearby farms or wildlife.

Photos described clockwise starting upper left. Photo 1: A burial pit for catastrophic cattle mortalities (winter storm Atlas, western South Dakota). Photo 2: Explaining the process of pre-selecting a burial site for catastrophic mortalities at a workshop in North Carolina. Photo 3: Poultry carcasses are being composted in the house after an avian influenza outbreak. (Photo credit: Josh Payne, Jones-Hamilton). Photo 4: A soil pit dug to examine site suitability for catastrophic animal mortality burial.

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Footnotes: These materials were developed with funding from the USDA NRCS through an interagency agreement with the U.S. EPA

Photos, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of USDA NRCS or Jill Heemstra, University of Nebraska

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