Composting: a timely option for disposal of dead livestock and large animals

Agricultural producers need to act quickly to dispose of livestock and other large animal carcasses after wildfires and other natural disasters. Composting animal mortalities can be an inexpensive biologically secure and environmentally sound alternative when other options such as burial or rendering are not available.

Composting is a controlled biological decomposition process that converts organic matter into a stable, humus-like product. The carcass, which is a nitrogen source, is covered with a bulking carbon-source agent such as wood shavings, promoting the proper carbon-to-nitrogen ratio required by microorganisms to successfully decompose the carcass while absorbing excess moisture and filtering odor.

The by-product of composting can be applied as a fertilizer source, adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil or recycled for new compost piles.

For smaller carcasses, a bin system can be utilized that layers carcasses with bulking agents such as chopped straw, poultry litter and wood shavings.

The composting site should be in an area that does not pose a risk to surface or groundwater contamination.

Catastrophic losses are best composted in windrows of a bulking agent because of the increased quantity of carcasses. The height, width and length of windrows depend on the size and number of carcasses to be composted.

For both routine and catastrophic composting, piles must be appropriately managed to achieve proper decomposition and prevent scavenger invasion.

With large numbers of mortality, it may be necessary for producers to use more than one carcass disposal option.

For additional information about dead animal composting and other carcass disposal options, download free OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Extension fact sheets at and visit the nearest country Extension office. To find the nearest office, go to