Mortality composting to be demonstrated at MSU Ag Expo

It doesn’t matter if you’re a small or large livestock producer, at some point you’ll need to manage mortalities. Composting is one way to handle mortalities that’ll fit any size livestock operation and allow nutrients to be recycled.

The Michigan Bodies of Dead Animals Act (BODA); Act 239 of 1982, as amended, describes six alternative ways to handled mortalities, including composting. Composting is defined as “the biological decomposition of animal tissue under controlled or managed conditions.” The key words in this quote are “under controlled or managed conditions.” Following the BODA helps farmers achieve the desired outcome of quality compost that was managed in a way that protects human and animal health; reduces the risk of disease transmission; controlled flies, vermin and scavenging animal problems; and protects ground and surface water as well as air quality.

Composting of mortalities on the farm may be done in piles or in-vessel. Piles can be in bins, open piles, overlapping piles or windrows. Since composting is a biological process, it is important to understand the science behind successful composting. BODA requires all compost piles to undergo a minimum of three heat cycles where the pile temperature is over 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Aeration and moisture addition will help to keep the biological process working and allow active composting to continue. Aeration of the compost material is an important part of the biological process and can be mechanical (fans), active (turned) or passive (natural air exchange within the pile). Aeration is an important management step to help control temperature and, ultimately, odor.

Small farms defined as farms with less than 20,000 pounds of mortalities annually can locate compost piles on bare soil without a floor or roof. This soil where the pile is located must be used for crop production and collection of leachate is not required. However, the pile should be sited so that it does not allow leachate to enter surface or ground water. Farms with more than 20,000 pounds of mortalities annually may also use open piles and windrows, but these piles must be on a concrete pad or liner that was put in place in accordance to NRCS 313.

The location and shape of the pile, what bulking agents to use, meeting temperature requirements and knowing when the compost is done and ready to use are all key steps in the management of mortality composting. MSU Extension will provide information as well as demonstrations of mortality composting at the 2012 Ag Expo. Compost piles will be opened each morning. Participants will see first-hand the results of good compost management. Various bulking agents will be demonstrated including wood chips, waste feed, horse bedding, dairy manure and wood shavings.

Mortality management is an essential part of every livestock operation. Composting is a safe and effective way to manage mortalities on the farm. Information provided during Ag Expo can help producers determine the method that best fits their operation.

MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources sponsors Ag Expo. It runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 17-18 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 19. Admission to the grounds and parking at Farm Lane and Mt. Hope Roads are free.

To learn more about the educational sessions being offered at Ag Expo this year, visit the Ag Expo website. For more information on mortality management, contact Dale Rozeboom at 517-355-8398.

Related resource: Proper Disposal of Dead Animals on Michigan Farms, Dale W. Rozeboom, MSU, (August, 2009)

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