Yes, these are weird times. Never could I imagine a virus so deadly it could strangle the world’s economy. Nor a virus killing thousands of people around the world. Nor American farmers having to slaughter their animals because livestock processing facilities were shutting down as this deadly virus was infecting processing workers.

The ugly reality is hog and cattle farmers are depopulating their herds by the thousands! They literally have no choice. By April 30, plants which process about 25 percent of U.S. pork were closed. 

Steve Meyer, pork-industry specialist with Kerns and Associates of Ames, Iowa, said farm economics have never been so distorted. The disgusting reality is no one can predict what’s ahead with accuracy.

On May 4, the Minnesota Department of Animal Health released a livestock carcass disposal guide featuring options for dealing with culled livestock.

Burial is effective for fewer carcasses; but be aware of the ground water level. If buried too deep, the carcass will not decompose readily and could remain intact for many years which could threaten ground water quality.

Incineration is also effective for smaller scale disposal.  This method requires special equipment and permits from the Pollution Control Agency.  Ash and gas emissions from the incinerator cannot exceed pollution standards.

Rendering creates a usable by-product, but requires the assistance of an outside agency. Companies pick up directly from the farm and haul to their own rendering facility. Rendering company trucks must be inspected and permitted by the Board of Animal Health, unless the vehicle belongs to the owner of the animal. 

The Board of Animal Health listed nine Minnesota rendering companies in its report: Central Bi-Products in Todd and Redwood County (800-767-2569); Darling International in Faribault and Fillmore County (507-526-3296); Sanimax in Dakota County (651-451-6858); T-N-T  Rendering in Lyon County (712-348-2407); West Central Sanitation in Kandiyohi County (320-235-7630); and Worthington Rendering in Nobles County (507-376-4711).

Composting is simple if you know what you’re doing. Once you understand the process and what ingredients are needed to make a good compost, you can do the work yourself.

Composting relies on naturally occurring microbes like bacteria and fungi. These microbes need a well-rounded diet, air, water and shelter. The most efficient are the thermophilic microbes which work best in temperatures higher than 130 F. When these thermophiles are thriving, they turn carcasses into a useful humus-like material — much like a slow-release fertilizer, organic soil addition or water-saving mulch.

A compost pile should have three to five cubic yards of porous compost materials for every 1,000 pounds of carcass surrounding its core to serve as an insulator. Use carbon-rich material such as sawdust, small wood shavings, ground-up woody plants, rotten hay bales, shredded sugar beets, peanut hulls or other brown-colored crop residues. Mixing two or three types of carbon-rich material together works best. You will need 3 to 5 cubic yards of this material for every 1,000 pounds of carcass. ‘Seed’ the pile of material with some manure, broiler litter or unfinished compost ahead of time to kick-start the process.

The larger the carcass, the longer the composting process will take. It is helpful to open up a larger carcass to give the microbes more surface area to work on. A front-end loader to move carcasses, assemble and turn the pile and load the finished compost into a spreader truck is necessary.

With euthanasia, the most logical alternative for larger producers is to see if your meat processing facilities will euthanize your animals. Also check if you may be able to haul your dead animals back to a composting pit on your own farm to produce nutrients for your own fields.

More information is available at www.mn.gov/bah/carcass-disposal; e-mail at animalhealth@state.mn.us; or (651) 296-2942.