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Board of Animal Health encourages producers to try composting dead cattle

A change in the federal rules for rendering dead cattle has the Minnesota Board of Animal Health encouraging beef and dairy producers to consider composting their mortalities. (Tribune photo/

WILLMAR -- With the federal Food and Drug Administration rule change on rendering of 30-month or older cattle set to change April 27, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health is encouraging beef and dairy producers to compost their mortalities.

"Don't be afraid to try it," said Carl Denkinger, district ag specialist for the Board of Animal Health. Denkinger was speaking Feb. 4 to a group of producers gathered in Kandiyohi County.

The FDA rule, driven by a mandate in federal legislation, will prohibit the brain and spinal cord of beef and dairy animals that are more than 30 months of age from entering the U.S. food and feed supply. The new rule expands on the 1997 safeguards against the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- more commonly referred to as "mad cow disease" -- and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. According to the FDA, bovine spongiform encephalopathy and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease belong to the unusual group of progressively degenerative neurological diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.

Central Bi-Products, the rendering division of Farmers Union Industries LLC, announced in January that it will continue dead animal removal in its service area and will remove animals over 30 months of age for an added cost of $35. According to a news release, more information about the new fee schedule will be available Sunday and the new prices will be implemented on April 1.

Even though renderers are agreeing to take the older animals, the Board of Animal Health is concerned that if problems are encountered, they may stop picking up the animals altogether, Denkinger said. That leaves producers with composting, burial and incineration as the only options for mortality disposal.

Composting mortalities started with poultry producers, then expanded to pork producers about 12 years ago, he said. The process is simple, and requires only four elements, the carcass, a carbon source, water and air.

The carbon source, commonly called the bulking agent, can be sawdust, straw, ground corn or bean stalks, ground hay, old silage or some similar product commonly available on the farm.

The carcasses are layered with the bulking agent, on an impervious surface, and the bacteria in the animal will soon begin the process, Denkinger said. A temperature of 130 degrees is necessary because pathogens are killed at that temperature or higher.

Producers are asked to monitor the pile each day and, in about 30 days, turn the pile over to provide more air to the process. The temperature will rise to 130 degrees or above again, and in as quick as another 30 to 60 days, the finished compost can be spread on fields.

The Board of Animal Health does not require producers to have a permit to compost mortalities, Denkinger says. However, the agency does want to know if producers are using the process so that assistance can be provided if necessary.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has printed an extensive guide on composting of mortalities. It is available by contacting the department or online at