From the March issue of Drovers.

If you raise livestock, at some point you’re going to have to deal with mortality. But a dead animal on a modern livestock operation can dramatically affect your image in the community if not properly handled. In extreme cases, improperly handled dead animals can hurt everyone’s image.

The cattle industry experiences a 4% to 5% mortality rate annually. Those deaths might be due to pre-weaning mortality, an infection such as bovine respiratory disease, or even winter storm or lightning strike. Whatever the reasons it occurred, we must handle it properly.

The first considerations are the time of year, if the death is an individual episode that occurs sporadically, or if the incidence might be an irregular rate of mortality. We need to make sure this death is not a disease or toxin outbreak.

Whatever the reason an animal dies, proper disposal of the carcass is critical. There are four legal methods for removing dead animals from our property: rendering, incinerating, burying or composting. Which method we choose will be determined by how many animals we have to remove, and, possibly, how old the animals are. For instance, rendering is not always available to animals older than 30 months of age due to our industry’s bovine spongiform encephalopathy prevention programs.

Incineration is not a practical option for most producers because of the expense and the logistics of moving the animals.

Rendering is a practical option, but producers need to exercise proper coordination with the rendering company. In other words, we often drag a carcass out to the road ditch so the rendering truck can have easy but limited access to the farm. That’s good for biosecurity, but we need to make sure the rendering truck arrives on schedule. A carcass laying at the end of the lane is not a good advertisement for your operation or the beef industry.

Rendering is the quickest way to get the animal off your property and the safest way of decreasing environmental or biosecurity contamination. Generally, the animal should be picked up within 48 hours.

The next safest option is burial of the carcass. The problem with burial is the environmental regulations involved in the process. Know your local and state regulations for burial. Make sure the burial site is at least 100' away from wells or sink holes. Carcasses should be buried 6' deep so they are not dug up by scavenger animals. The site should be as far away as possible from your neighbor’s property.

Composting of the carcass is the fourth option. This method leaves the carcass above ground, but it’s covered with at least 2' of dried manure to create an environment of carbon and nitrogen. If done correctly, there will be good bacterial fermentation in the mound that outpaces the pathogenic, or bad, bacteria when an animal or carcass is composted.

Finally, the method that has the highest risk is when we allow scavenger animals to clean up the carcass. Scavengers can potentially harbor or increase the spread of disease on your farm or ranch.