What to do About Carcass Disposal

Regulations and restrictions can make carcass disposal difficult. ( Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Adam Russell )

Carcass disposal is a growing concern for dairies regardless of size. Recently small rendering compa-nies in the Northeast have been notified by pet food manufacturers that they will no longer accept product from carcasses that die on the farm. Trace amounts of sodium pentobarbital, used by veterinarians for euthanasia, has been detected in commercial dog food. Farms that used rendering companies to remove dead stock are now left without a safe and convenient method of carcass disposal.

HUMANE EUTHANASIA

Euthanasia for livestock in certain situations remains the most humane option for animals that are disabled or sick and have no reasonable chance of a positive recovery. Approved methods for cattle euthanasia include gunshot of the appropriate caliber, penetrating captive bolt and barbiturate overdose, provided veterinarians and herdsmen are properly trained. Unfortunately, despite its effectiveness and low cost, the use of pentobarbital will always result in a carcass unfit for consumption.

Contrary to popular belief, sodium pentobarbital is not destroyed by the rendering process and could potentially induce toxicities in wild animals or pets that ingest the tainted product. Under no circumstances should cattle euthanized with pentobarbital be allowed to enter the pet food market - FDA has established a zero tolerance for this drug. Because of the potential for inadvertent toxicities, pet food manufacturers only accept product from animals that have arrived at packing plants alive.

In an effort to avoid pet food contamination, New York State veterinary authorities have suggested uniquely identifying (ear tags and thoracic/abdominal dye) cattle and horses that have been given pentobarbital. And, in the future, farms and veterinarians will likely have to document the method of euthanasia when deadstock are removed.

Fortunately there are options for on farm disposal of carcasses. Burial and composting tend to be the most popular and economically viable. Burial in a trench has several disadvantages including environmental concerns and the potential for wild animals to uncover carcasses that haven’t been protected with adequate topsoil. Cold weather may discourage burial disposal.

COMPOSTING

Composting has become popular, specifically in the Northeast, as a means of carcass disposal. The process only requires an adequate source of carbon, such as wood chips, and a front-end loader. The resulting composted material is environmentally safe and can be reused to establish another compost pile or spread as fertilizer. Before you bury or compost, consult your specific state regulations as protocols can differ in various regions of the country.

Options for disposal include landfills, incineration and alkaline digesters. These methods, though, can be expensive and are limited in their ability to handle large numbers of carcasses. Removing carcasses to pastures or woods without burying or composting is discouraged and often illegal.

SELL HEALTHY ANIMALS

While culling is inevitable, given the current dairy economy, producers and veterinarians need to identify culling candidates while they’re still healthy. Dairy beef is still a valuable resource. When sending animals to the sale barn is not an option, on-farm euthanasia must be considered. Farm personnel must be properly trained to identify animals for which euthanasia is the best option and instructed on the safe disposition of the carcass. Dairies also need to consider public perception when deciding how best to handle deadstock. 

Remember: Sodium pentobarbital is to be handled and administered only by a licensed veterinarian. Animals euthanized with this product can not enter the pet food market.

Peter Ostrum is a senior partner in Dairy Health and Management Services and the Countryside Veterinary Clinic in Lowville, N.Y.

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