Michigan OKs Composting Horse Carcasses

Dairy farmer Ken Nobis reaches into a tall mound of what looks like topsoil and grabs a clump, which he looks over and quickly sniffs before crumbling it.

The 10-foot-high, 50-foot-long heap that he's examining is a compost pile. Its humus is dark, rich and virtually odor-free--which is surprising, given that much of it consists of cow manure and the decayed remains of dead cattle.

Michigan recently enacted new rules that make it easier for farmers to compost animal carcasses. A growing number of states allow farmers to compost the carcasses of horses, poultry, and livestock. The agriculture industry says it's a safe and economical way to dispose of dead animals, though some environmentalists question whether it could lead to groundwater and surface water contamination.

U.S. farms started using composting as a disposal method for dead poultry in the 1980s. Hog farmers later adopted the method, which more recently has been used to dispose of cattle and sheep carcasses. (For more on composting horse carcasses see www.TheHorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=7825.)  

Michigan's new rules allow farmers to build open-air compost piles in their fields without a floor or a structure, as long as they do not exceed more than 20,000 pounds of carcasses during a year. Otherwise, producers are required to construct bases of concrete or other impermeable surfaces for their piles and drain any runoff into containment areas.

There are setback requirements intended to protect streams and wells from runoff. Farmers also are required to maintain records about what goes into their piles and must monitor moisture and temperature.

Historically, farmers haven't had many options when it came to getting rid of bodies or parts of bodies of their domestic animals. In Michigan, only a handful of landfills accept animal carcasses and parts.

The problem became more serious in recent years as Michigan's rendering industry--whose companies make glues, hair dyes, and other products from animal remains--has nearly vanished. Rendering also is expensive, costing farmers up to $150 per animal for large livestock, said Kevin Kirk, a spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture.

Many farmers see composting as an economical and practical solution.

"Everyone sat around the table to develop these rules," says Ernie Birchmeier, a livestock specialist with the Michigan Farm Bureau, a lobbying group representing farmers. "We did the research, we did the homework and we came up with a strategy, a new management option for farmers to use that works for them and helps to protect the environment and utilize the nutrients in a more positive way."

About the Author

The Associated Press


Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners