Location, location, location: Where to put the mortality compost pile

A little planning will eliminate a lot of problems when siting a compost pile.

Proper management of dead animals on Michigan farms is essential to protect both human and animal health, to reduce risk of disease transmission, to control flies and other vermin and to protect surface and ground water. The Bodies of Dead Animals Act 239 of 1982, as amended, regulates the management of dead animals and allows for open pile composting of dead animals on small or medium sized farms. This form of composting provides a cost effective way for producers to manage dead animals and allow the nutrients to be recycled.

This article will discuss the siting of open pile composting for farms with less than 20,000 pounds of mortality annually. Farms under this threshold may compost in piles on bare soil without a floor or roof.

  • Piles must be located on land that is used for crop production.
  • The site must have a minimum setback of 200 feet from water, including lakes, streams, wetlands, sinkholes, seasonal sinks and other forms of surface water.
  • The site must be a minimum of 2 feet above the seasonal high water table. If water ponds in this area in the spring, it is not a good site.
  • Piles should be no less than 200 feet from a well.
  • Do not locate the pile within 200 feet of the nearest non-farm resident.
  • Leachate does not need to be collected, but the site should allow it to drain away from the pile and it should not come in contact with surface water.
  • The site should not be located within the flood plain.

A pile can remain in the same footprint up to two years – one year while adding dead animals, the second while allowing the compost to finish. After two years, the compost must be land applied at agronomic rates. A compost pile cannot be placed in this same footprint for 10 years. This rotation allows the growing crop to utilize any nutrients that were leached into the soil.

Proper siting improves management and decreases risk. Time spent planning the location of the compost pile will be rewarded.

Visit MSU Department of Animal Science’s Dale Rozeboom’s Composting Animal Tissue to Recycle Nutrients website for additional information on mortality composting.

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