August 2009
From the State Vet's Office

Getting Rid of the Body -

Carcass Disposal Considerations

Have you ever watched one of those crime drama shows where someone gets murdered? The actual murder itself seems to go off without a hitch. Then it gets a little dicey when the murderer tries to get rid of the body. However, if the perpetrator does a good job of disposing of the evidence, they are pretty much home free. No body….no crime. There are few livestock producers or poultry producers who have not had to deal with the issue of "getting rid of the body." This article is intended to help you producers become aware of many of the considerations involved with carcass disposal. Since poultry producers operate under a specific law governing disposal of mortality, we will direct most of our attention to livestock.

There is an agricultural law in the Code of Alabama dealing with burial or burning of dead animals. The law begins like this: All owners or custodians of animals which die or are killed in their possession or custody, other than such as are slaughtered for food, within 24 hours shall cause the bodies of such animal to be burned or buried at least two feet below the surface of the ground……. The law goes on to state anyone who fails to comply or even buries or burns in such proximity to a dwelling as to cause a nuisance shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. Many producers are unaware of this law. But as we all know, ignorance of the law is no excuse. Our department usually becomes involved on a "for cause" basis. Generally speaking, that means we are responding to complaints.

We have over the last few years become involved in several improper disposal issues. Most of the time, an animal dies in the pasture and is not removed. A neighbor or by-passer sees the carcass and reports it to us. There have been other occasions involving several animals dying over a period of time and being placed into an open pit. From our perspective, most producers want to do what is right, if they have proper information. Unfortunately, there is no prescribed method of disposal fitting all producers and all situations. Hopefully, we can shed some light on things to consider when disposing of carcasses.

While there is no easy way to dispose of the carcass of a 2,000 pound bull, taking it to an approved landfill is certainly worth considering. Not all landfills will take these carcasses, but there are enough around that this method of disposal is worth checking into. This method is also in harmony with the disposal law because these dead animals are usually covered or buried daily. My advice is you call before you haul. Don’t just show up at a landfill with a carcass or you may end up bringing it back home.

Renderers are another option for so producers. However, because of a new FDA regulation put into place to address BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) issues, it is no longer practical for a producer to take a bovine over 30 months of age to a renderer. The regulation allows no brain or spinal cord material from cattle over 30 months to be rendered. This has not only caused a problem for producers who might have taken a carcass to the renderer, but also for slaughter facilities that process cattle over 30 months. If you have a cow die that is under 30 months and an establishment is close by that renders cattle, that could be a good option.

Some areas of the state are fortunate to have someone who is in the business of picking up fallen livestock. Ultimately, the carcasses usually end up at the landfill or renderer. People who haul dead livestock for the public must be registered with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. If you have questions about this, call me at (334) 240-7253.

Finally, there is on-farm disposal. For most producers who occasionally lose an animal, burial is an acceptable choice. If you lose several animals at one time, we recommend you contact your local NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) Office. NRCS is not a regulatory agency, but they have helpful printed material that will help you bury in the most suitable area on your farm. One of the main considerations NRCS can help you address is to bury in an area that will not contaminate the ground water and surface water like ponds, streams and lakes. Some of the considerations in burying include soil type, drainage and elevation. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management has some regulation concerning putting putrifying material in the ground. If you have any doubts, you should contact that department.

As the dynamics of our society change and urban sprawl continues, we realize we must use Best Management Practices (BMP) in disposal of livestock and poultry. I suppose, if you have a 500,000 acre ranch in Nevada and wish to leave the dead animals around to feed the buzzards and coyotes, that might be okay. But here in Alabama, we want to be good citizens and good neighbors. We especially want to take care of our natural resources like water.

It is also worth mentioning USDA is still paying $100 to help with the proper disposal of cattle over 30 months of age that die of unknown causes. To qualify for the $100, you must allow the carcass to be sampled for BSE. If you need information on this give me a call.

Finally, there is one method of carcass disposal I haven’t mentioned because it isn’t exactly disposal. That is taxidermy. I realize it’s not for everyone. But I have seen some very impressive "stuffed cattle" and I understand Roy Rogers had his horse, Trigger, preserved that way. Properly placed, a stuffed cow, bull or horse could certainly be a unique decoration around the place. If you do choose this method, don’t call me. That’s not my field of expertise. Otherwise, call us if you have questions. We are from the government and we’re here to help.