Extension Logo
Extension Logo
University of Minnesota Extension
https://extension.umn.edu

Extension is expanding its online education and resources to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions.

Composting livestock and poultry carcasses

Quick facts

  • Composting is an approved method for disposal of poultry, swine, cattle, horses, sheep, goats and farmed deer.
  • Always check with local authorities to understand local rules and processes before starting a mortality compost system.
  • The method you use to compost depends on the carcass size, number of carcasses and space available.
  • In the case of animal deaths due to disease outbreaks, you must take additional biosecurity measures. 

Composting is a widespread practice for many types of organic materials that can be adapted to handle dead livestock. While many of the aspects and processes in mortality composting echo the composting of other organics, one key difference is how time factors into an efficient and successful process. 

Composting is one of many methods approved for disposal of poultry, swine, cattle, horses, sheep, goats and farmed deer by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health under normal operating conditions. Composting is also recognized as an option for animal mortality plans that are part of permits through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Always check with local authorities to understand local rules and processes before starting a mortality compost system. 

Mortality composting is also an option for mass animal deaths caused by disease outbreaks or when quickly depopulating a farm. In the case of disease outbreaks, you must take additional biosecurity measures. 

In any situation, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health will help producers determine if composting is an appropriate disposal method and if there are any specific farm considerations for the composting process.

Mortality composting process

Composting is the conversion of organic material to carbon dioxide, water, heat and a stable humus-like product through aerobic (oxygen-aided) processes. With mortality composting, there are key stages to complete this process. 

  • The primary stage (1st heat cycle) is for the breakdown of soft tissue and softening of bones. 
  • The secondary stage (2nd heat cycle) furthers the breakdown process.
  • The curing process finishes the breakdown process at lower temperatures.
 | 

Materials and equipment

Besides time and patience, key resources for successful mortality composting include bulking material (also called carbon amendment), a water source, equipment, fencing and monitoring equipment.

 | 

Compost systems

There are various configurations for mortality compositing, depending on the carcass size, mortality addition rate and space availability. Use or retrofit of older buildings and sheds is a consideration, particularly if there is sufficient access for machinery. Design assistance is available. 

 | 

Erin Cortus, Extension engineer

Reviewed in 2020

Share this page:

© 2020 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved. The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.