In the aftermath of the recent tornado, there were some livestock and domestic animals that were killed. There may be others that yet succumb to injuries received from the tornado and others still that are yet to be found. In any event, this information may be a little late for most, but I thought it appropriate for future reference.


In the aftermath of the recent tornado, there were some livestock and domestic animals that were killed. There may be others that yet succumb to injuries received from the tornado and others still that are yet to be found. In any event, this information may be a little late for most, but I thought it appropriate for future reference.


Proper management of on-farm animal mortalities is vital to every farming operation. Improper disposal of dead animal carcasses can negatively impact surface and groundwater resources due to pathogenic bacteria and viruses found within the carcass. Pathogens can be spread by insects, rodents, predators, scavengers, rain runoff and direct contact by other livestock or poultry. This can result in unnecessary public health risks and the transmission of animal disease. Consequently, Oklahoma has regulations regarding the disposal of livestock and poultry mortalities. Proper disposal is not only logical and sensible; it is the neighborly and responsible thing to do so as to minimize risks and inconveniences to you and your neighbors.


State approved methods for disposing of deceased livestock include burial, landfills, incineration, rendering and composting. Incineration may require an air quality permit from the Department of Environmental Quality and I am not aware of any convenient rendering service in our area, so this discussion will focus on burial, landfills and composting.


Burial is the most common method of dead animal disposal. If proper guidelines are followed, burial is a safe option. However, poor site selection, such as sandy soils or areas with high water tables, may pose threats to groundwater and water wells. Oklahoma’s regulations regarding burial are listed below:


• Burial of dead livestock requires the construction of a pit


• Do not locate the burial site closer than 1 foot vertically above the flood plain, or within 2 feet of the water table or bedrock.


• Do not locate the burial pit within 300 feet of wells, waters of the state (creeks, rivers, ponds, lakes, etc.) neighboring residences, public areas or property boundaries.


• After placing the dead carcasses in the pit, cover with a minimum of 2.5 feet of topsoil. Inspect burial sites routinely to ensure that wild animals are not digging and dragging them away.


Disposing of carcasses at a licensed landfill is another form of acceptable burial. Prior contact is essential, because not all landfills accept animal mortalities. Landfills that do not accept may require prior notification before delivery and/or documentation from a licensed veterinarian concerning the cause of death. Landfill tipping fees should be assessed and may range from $20 to $30 per ton.


Composting dead animal carcasses is an inexpensive, biologically safe and environmentally sound approach to addressing the issue of carcass disposal. By definition, composting is a controlled biological decomposition process that converts organic matter into a stable, humus-like product. The carcass is buried in a bulking agent, such as wood shavings or straw, that is high in carbon, allowing for the proper carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N ratio) needed to successfully decompose the carcass while absorbing excess moisture and filtering odor. A C:N ratio of 25:1 is generally recommended. Manure may be mixed with the bulking agent as a source of N and microorganisms in order to balance the C:N ratio and improve composting efficiency. The high temperatures (130-150 degrees) achieved through proper composting will destroy most pathogens. Microorganisms will degrade the carcass, leaving only a few small bone fragments which are brittle and will break easily. This valuable by-product can be land applied as a fertilizer source, adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil or recycled for new compost piles. As with burial, site selection is important. The site should be located in an area that does not pose a risk to surface or groundwater contamination. If manure is to be used as a composting ingredient, the compost pile must be protected by tarping the sides or establishing a compacted soil berm around the perimeter of the compost pile.


Proper animal disposal is vital to the sustainability and environmental stewardship of farming operations. In addition, state laws regulate disposal methods. By practicing the state approved methods, disease transmission risks to humans and animals can be reduced.


Food for Thought:  Why is it that if someone tell us that there are 1 billion stars in the universe we will believe them, but if they tell us a wall has wet paint we have to touch it to be sure?