Composting: The Best Way To Dispose Of Dead Stock

Sadly, no matter how much caring and preparation you put into your animals, occasionally one will die.

Now what? What is the appropriate way to dispose of the carcass?

The proper disposal method of dead livestock is composting.

As much as I love raising animals, livestock death is still dreadful and such a hard thing to deal with. I know it’s natural, very natural, but that doesn’t help me like it better.

When you do have a dead animal at your farm what are your options?

Now that the animal has died, put aside your disappointment and get to figuring out the best way to dispose of the carcass.

Backyard Sheep is an article I wrote for folks with limited acreage that would still like to raise some livestock.

This video shows composting small and medium hoofstock (sheep, goats, pigs). They also have a video on large animal composting for cattle and horses.

Let me go off on a bit of a tangent here, I don’t like using the phrase “dispose of.” Why? To me, you dispose of something that is worthless and that’s not the case here.

True the animal is dead, but the body is a powerhouse of nutritional value for the soil, not a piece of junk.

The online dictionary suggests make over as a synonym for dispose, so I’ll use make over from here out. To me, make over means repurposing some thing of value to work better.

As disappointing as a dead animal is, it would be worse to waste the carcass, that’s a double loss to your farm!

Using Grass To Feed Your Herd shows you how to best use the forages you have to keep your cattle happy!

Graphic showing amount of compost material covering for livestock composting
Here is a little graphic I made to explain all of this more clearly.
(In case you are wondering, that’s supposed to be a sheep!)

Composting the carcass

Composting is the top answer for making over the carcass. When you compost you’ll put the carcass under wood shavings and wait, that’s it. You just wait.

Where you put the compost pile will be dictated by the place that is appropriate for your farm and inline with the state laws.

Generally, the place you are looking for has these characteristics: 1. is away from water sources, 2. out of the main traffic area and 3. close enough to be accessible when needed.

As one producer said, “At some point, livestock become dead stock.”

David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, reminds producers to be prepared to properly dispose of animals that die on their farms. Disposing of carcasses in locations where they might contaminate surface water or wells is illegal in Arkansas.

“Several methods for the disposal of livestock carcasses are acceptable under Arkansas law,” Fernandez said. “These include rendering, burial, extrusion, cooking for swine feed, composting and incineration.”


How to compost livestock

Believe it or not, I took a class on composting livestock! It was given years ago by the Ohio Extension Agents of Wayne and Holmes county.

At that time the recommendation for covering the dead animal was 3 feet of sawdust as a base and one foot of sawdust over the entire body for the whole composting process.

If you click through to the article quoted above, you’ll see they are saying 24 inches on all sides.

Once again, look up the recommendations for your state, it may be different!

Sheep Or Cattle: Which One Should You Raise? is an article I wrote to give you a look at the pros and cons of both.

Materials needed to compost livestock

This is simple, you need sawdust! Get a dump truck load in place and use as needed, since the sawdust is great for bedding, as well.

Take note of the highway patrol’s answer to dead animals on the road, for us it’s deer.

The carcass gets pulled to the side of the road, in the grass, and a pile of mulch/sawdust is put on top, that’s it. Easy and effective.

Here’s another article with a more detailed set of instructions than the one above, Producer’s Need A Disposal Plan.

Adding cover material such as straw or old hay is the last step in creating a compost pile or windrow for disposing of dead livestock. ( North Dakota State University Extension )

Ellen Crawford, NDSU Extension Service

The above article will be useful for anyone caught off guard or under supplied with sawdust.

She give directions for livestock mortality composting using old hay and/or straw.

Time needed to compost livestock is 90 days

In the class I took, the answer was 90 days. Not just any 90 days, but 90 days of warm weather.

What’s the difference, aren’t all days the same 24 hours? True, but hours are not the thing that is potentially holding you up.

You’re thinking time per day, when the real limiter here is temperature of the day. You must have 90 days of warmer weather for the composting to be sure to work.

Now I’m sure you know that composting will put off heat.

The next question would be won’t the heat from the composting make this work regardless of the weather? Maybe, and maybe is not good enough in this case. We are looking for definitely.

What animals can be composted

Any animal can be composted. The bigger the body mass the longer it will take to finish composting.

Meaning a 1,000 pound cow would take longer to compost down than 10 head of 100 pound sheep.

Let’s keep focused on the important things here: if you have 10 dead sheep, you need a vet, not a bigger compost pile!

You can keep extrapolating these numbers out, however, you start to get into the ridiculous or you have much bigger problems than composting.

For instance: if you were wondering how long would it take to compost down a bunch of small bodied animals, you are focused on the wrong thing here!

Animal health first, composting the few that died should come a distant second.

When is the most likely time to need composting?

The most likely time to need composting is in the spring, or whenever the livestock on your farm are being born.

The sad truth is that not all babies will live and your most frequent death losses will come during the lambing or calving season.

Over the course of a year, you may need to make over a carcass at anytime. However, the most likely time composting will be needed is during the birthing season.

Heads up for any home butchering plans

The second time you are likely to need a compost pile is when you are doing any home butchering.

All of the feathers or hide, internal organs, blood and bits and pieces you will want to cut off the carcass before it hits your freezer are all great candidates for the compost pile.

Is there any maintenance of the pile needed?

For the most part, once the compost pile gets going put together, you wait the 90 days and see how it did.

There is one exception, and that is for ruminants. Ruminants tend to get a huge bloated up stomach after death, since the bacteria in the gut are still working!

Once that poofy gut collapses, there will be a dent in the top of your pile. You’ll want to fill in that dented spot so the compost pile sheds water.

Other than that, you’ll want to check the pile once in a while to make sure it’s still holding together well and wait for the 90 days.

Dead animals stink, won’t this smell?

If you are worried about smell, don’t be. With a properly set up pile and an 24 inch covering of sawdust, the pile won’t smell at all or attract flies.

If you do smell “something” you need to add more sawdust and make sure to keep the 24 inches of material around the carcass at all times.

There is no smell, when you do it right. Cheap out on materials and there will be. Do it right from the beginning.

Quick fixes and simple answers

The simple answer to any question you may have regarding maintaining the pile is to add more shavings, if you feel they are needed. Otherwise, leave it alone.

For the question of when is it done, or what do I do if it’s not done: poke around a little and see what’s going on in there (after the 90 days!) or just wait and give the pile more time to work.

Composting is a natural process that will work, as long as you have set up the appropriate conditions. Set up the pile correctly in the beginning and don’t worry about it after that. The occasional check in is all that is needed.

If you’d rather bury the carcass

If you don’t have experience with composting for other reasons, like a garden, you may prefer to bury the carcass, thinking burial is easier. Sometimes, it may be the easy answer, other times, not so much.

There are times when burying is going to be a challenge, for example in winter or in a really dry year.

Here’s an example from my husband’s early years as a shepherd. When he was in high school in the early 90’s his ram died of urinary calculi in the crazy hot part of August. He decided to bury the carcass.

Digging a hole in the rock hard ground took quite some time! And for anyone who has not had the experience, a hole for a full size sheep needs to be much bigger than you think!

Had he known about composting, he could have saved himself considerable work!

Similar Posts