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Why did the engineer compost the dead chicken?

Top national animal composting experts will speak at May 14 webinar

April 10, 2010

Contact(s): Dr. Saqib Mukhtar, 979-458-1019,

COLLEGE STATION – - Why did the agricultural engineer compost the dead chicken? Or the dead cow, for that matter?

“Because he was trying to figure out what disappeared first,” joked Dr. Saqib Mukhtar, Texas AgriLife Extension Service engineer. “And the conclusion was they both worked very well in composting.”

All joking aside, Mukhtar said dead animal composting, whether of poultry or cattle carcasses, is serious business. If done properly, composting is not only more economical than burying or using a conventional rendering service, it may be more environmentally sound as well.

On May 14, Mukhtar will be moderating the free webinar “Livestock and Poultry Mortality Composting: A Natural Rendering Process.” Set to start at 1:30 p.m. CST, the webinar will bring in four of the top national experts in livestock and poultry composting, he said. This webcast is part of the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center webcast series.

“Perhaps even more so, because of lack of dead animal pick-up services and bio-security, animal feeding operations are finding that having a conventional rendering plant pick up a dead (animal) can be prohibitively expensive,” he said.

The webinar topics will include: Routine and emergency carcass composting.

– Composting in warm as well as cold semi-arid environments.

– Composting large carcasses with different types of feed-stock (straw, manure, etc.).

– Composting catastrophic poultry mortalities.

In addition to Mukhtar, webinar speakers will be:

Jean Bonhotal, senior extension associate with the Cornell Waste Management Institute, Cornell University.

Tommy Bass, livestock Environment associate specialist, Montana State University.

George (Bud) Malone, an Extension poultry specialist for the University of Delaware for 34 years who now runs a private poultry consulting service.

Josh Payne, area animal waste management specialist for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.

To attend the webinar, participants should go to to download the speakers’ PowerPoint presentations and connect to the virtual meeting room, he said. Mukhtar recommended that individuals who haven’t attended a webinar before visit the site ahead of time and click on the link about participating in a webcast.

Mukhtar also noted that to allow time for questions and answers, there is no set end time for the webinar, but that he expected it to last about 70 minutes.

“We can go a few minutes over that time if needed, and viewers can return to the website later to look at the archived version of this and many other animal manure and environmental management webinars,” he said.

Even in ordinary day-to-day operations, feed yards, poultry farms and other livestock operations will have to deal with dead animals. There are many issues, including regulatory ones, with just letting the carcass decay naturally in the field. The legal options are burying, incinerating, conventional rendering and composting. Burying can be expensive because of the size of the pit that needs to be dug even for a single animal, Mukhtar said.

“The pit will need to be two to three times the size of the animal,” he said. “For a 2,000 pound beef cow this means considerable time with a backhoe.”

Plus, if not done properly, there’s the risk of contaminating the local water table, Mukhtar said.

Poultry producers have some of the same issues with burying dead birds as do large animal operations. Additionally, Texas regulations only allow poultry houses to bury dead birds if there is a major die-off, and then only if the number of dead birds “exceeds 0.3 percent per day of the total farm inventory,” Mukhtar said.

Incinerating can also be expensive in terms of cost of equipment and the propane, diesel fuel or natural gas used to fire the burners. There are also potential environmental issues from the smokestack emissions, he noted.

As for rendering, not only are transportation costs an issue, but the increased risks of bio-security are contributing to a decline in the number of rendering facilities in many areas, Mukhtar said. If a rendering plant closes, cattle producers, or animal producers in general, have an issue of how to take their dead cattle distances as far as 150 to 200 miles.

In comparison, composting dead animals poses few if any of the problems of incinerating, burying or transporting long distances, he said. Plus, in relatively short time – less than 45 days for chickens and about six months for an average-sized cow — the carcasses can be recycled into fertilizer.

“We’re calling composting ‘naturally rendering,’” Mukhtar said. “You can completely biodegrade an animal and turn it from a potential problem into something that benefits the soil.”

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