Source: Western United Dairymen/Kings County Farm Bureau
Composting is a viable solution for disposing of animal carcasses in an emergency situation, preliminary results of a California study on mammalian carcass composting show.
The results were unveiled March 25 by University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) staff at the UC Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center (VMTRC) in Tulare, Calif. UCCE's Carol Collar and VMTRC's Paul Rossitto presented the University's initial findings.
"Rendering is still the only legal means, and the best method that also provides useful, marketable products,” Rossitto said.
The goal of the UC research was to measure the viability of composting as one of several alternative methods for carcass disposal, which would be safe for the environment and protective of animal and human health. Under proper conditions and using the correct materials, the study proved that composting creates rapid heating that will kill disease pathogens in the pile.
During times of emergency, such as the 2006 heat wave that hit counties in California's Central Valley and killed thousands of dairy animals, farmers and dairymen need to have options for dead animal disposal.
In July of 2006, when rendering facilities could not keep up with the increased farm animal deaths, Kings County responded by declaring a local emergency, thus allowing burial as an alternative means of animal disposal.
"High temperatures caused more rapid carcass decomposition, which slowed down the carcass rendering process,” said Kings County Agricultural Commissioner Tim Niswander. "With nearly 5,000 dead dairy cows in Tulare County and about 4,000 in Kings, we were faced with a real challenge. This study proves that composting is an option to consider before we are faced with a situation like this again.”
A year after the study began, the results were positive from every measurement.
"In addition to pathogen kill, we found relatively low levels of volatile organic compounds emitted into the air, no unpleasant smell, and no ground seepage," Collar said. "As a matter of fact, the ground was so dry under the piles that a small animal made a home under the plastic base during the winter,”
Only bones remained in the compost, which could be used as a base for the next pile. Researchers pointed out that the resulting compost material could possibly be taken to a landfill or spread on fields, if approved by the appropriate agencies.
While composting of poultry is allowed, mammalian carcass composting is not a legal practice in California. The study was operated under a special permit for research from Cal EPA. The next step for the UC center is to publish its findings. From there, they hope composting will be considered legal under emergency situations.