Livestock and Poultry Mortality Management Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Scroll through the slideshows below to see many of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) about managing animal carcasses. After each question you can play a short (1-2 minute) video or scroll to the next question. Also see the page “Managing Livestock and Poultry Mortalities“. This series of short (<2 minutes each) videos is also gathered into playlist on YouTube.

Options to Dispose of Livestock and Poultry Carcasses

Options for Managing Animal Mortalities

No farmer or ranch likes to lose an animal, but the need to dispose of livestock or poultry carcasses is an inescapable part of farming.

Storified by LPE Learning Center · Thu, Oct 04 2012 09:09:17

Why Is It Important to Manage Animal Mortalities Properly?
FAQ(v): Why is proper livestock disposal important?lpelc
What Are the Options for Animal Mortality Management?
FAQ(v): What are some common animal mortality disposal methods?lpelc
Animal Mortality Composting
FAQ(v): What is animal mortality composting?lpelc
Burial of Dead Animals
FAQ(v): Is Burial an Option for Managing Animal Mortalities?lpelc
Rendering Animal Mortalities
FAQ(v): Can I use rendering as an option for livestock mortalities?lpelc
Incineration For Managing Animal Mortalities
FAQ(v): Can I use incineration as an option for livestock mortalities?lpelc
Land Fills As An Option for Animal Carcasses
FAQ(v): Can I use landfills as an option for livestock mortalities?lpelc

Composting Animal Mortalities

Composting Animal Mortalities

One option for managing livestock or poultry carcasses is composting. What are some of the most frequently asked questions when people first consider composting dead animals?

Storified by LPE Learning Center · Thu, Oct 04 2012 09:31:49

What Is Animal Mortality Composting?
FAQ(v): What is animal mortality composting?lpelc
Why Should I Consider Composting Animal Mortalities?
FAQ(v): Why should I consider composting livestock mortalities?lpelc
How Long Does Animal Mortality Composting Take?
FAQ(v): Approximately how long does livestock or poultry mortality composting take?lpelc
Economics of Composting Livestock Mortalities
FAQ(v): How much does livestock mortality composting cost?lpelc
What Are the Materials Needed for Composting Livestock or Poultry Mortalities (C:N Ratio, Moisture, etc.)?
FAQ(v): What are the necessary materials for composting livestock mortalities?lpelc
What Carbon Source Should I Use For Composting Livestock Mortalities?
FAQ(v): What carbon source can I use to compost animal mortalities?lpelc
When Should You Turn a Compost Pile Containing Animal Mortalities?
FAQ(v): How do you know when to turn the livestock mortality compost pile?lpelc
Will Odors Be a Problem When I Compost Animal Carcasses?
FAQ(v): Is odor a concern when composting livestock mortalities?lpelc
Will Scavengers Be a Problem When I compost Animal Carcasses?
FAQ(v): Are scavenger animals a concern when composting livestock or poultry mortalities?lpelc
Can I Compost Dead Animals In the Winter?
FAQ(v): Can you compost livestock or poultry mortalities in the winter?lpelc
Do the Bones Break Down When Composting Carcasses?
FAQ(v): Do the bones break down? If not, what should I do with them?lpelc

Catastrophic Mortality Management

Catastrophic Mortality Management

Sometimes fires, natural disasters, disease, or other problems unfortunately result in the loss of large numbers of livestock. If you do not plan ahead, you could be overwhelmed if this situation occurs for you.

Storified by LPE Learning Center · Thu, Oct 04 2012 10:42:04

What Happens If I Have Multiple Animal Mortalities?
FAQ(v): What if I have multiple livestock mortalities?lpelc
Composting Catastrophic Poultry Mortalities Using the Mix and Pile Method
Composting Catastrophic Poultry Mortalities In-House Using the Mix and Pile Methodlpelc
Composting Catastrophic Poultry Mortalities in Outdoor Windrows
Composting Catastrophic Poultry Mortalities in Outdoor Windrows.mp4lpelc

Related Information

  • eXtension: Managing Livestock and Poultry Mortalities
  • June, 2009 webcast presentation on Managing Livestock Mortalities Discusses regulations and an overview of several methods with an emphasis on composting.
  • LPES Curriculum Mortality Review
  • Question #27119, What is animal carcass composting? link
  • Question #27787, How critical are carbon to nitrogen ratios (C:N) in large carcass mortality composting? link
  • Question #27171, Should we be concerned about E. coli O157:H7 in manure compost? link
  • Question #27172, By what factor does composting manure reduce the pathogens present? link

Author: Joshua Payne, Oklahoma State University

Reviewers: Shafiqur Rahman, North Dakota State University and Jean Bonhotal, Cornell University

Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Livestock & Poultry

Agriculture is both a source and sink for greenhouse gases (GHG). A source is a net contribution to the atmosphere, while a sink is a net withdrawal of greenhouse gases.  In the United States, agriculture is a relatively small contributor, with approximately 8% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, as seen below.  Most agricultural emissions originate from soil management, enteric fermentation (the ruminant digestion process that produces methane), energy use, and manure management.  The primary greenhouse gases related to agriculture are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Within animal production, the largest emissions are from beef followed by dairy, and largely dominated by the methane produced in during cattle digestion.

U.S. GHG Inventory

U.S. greenhouse gas inventory with electricity distributed to economic sectors (EPA, 2013) 

Ag Sources of GHGs

U.S. agricultural greenhouse gas sources (Adapted from Archibeque, S. et al., 2012)

Greenhouse gas emissions from livestock in 2008 (USDA, 2011)

Soil Management

Excess nitrogen in agriculture systems can be converted to nitrous oxide through the nitrification-denitrification process. Nitrous oxide is a very potent greenhouse gas, with 310 times greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide.  Nitrous oxide can be produced in soils following fertilizer application (both synthetic and organic).

As crops grow, photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it in the plants and soil life. Soil and plant respiration adds carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere when microbes or plants breakdown molecules to produce energy.  Respiration is an essential part of growth and maintenance for most life on earth. This repeats with each growth, harvest, and decay cycle, therefore, feedstuffs and foods are generally considered to be carbon “neutral.”

Some carbon dioxide is stored in soils for long periods of time.  The processes that result in carbon accumulation are called carbon sinks or carbon sequestration.  Crop production and grazing management practices influence the soil’s ability to be a net source or sink for greenhouse gases.  Managing soils in ways that increase organic matter levels can increase the accumulation (sink) of soil carbon for many years.


The next largest portion of livestock greenhouse gas emissions is from methane produced during enteric fermentation in ruminants – a natural part of ruminant digestion where microbes in the first of four stomachs, the rumen, break down feed and produce methane as a by-product. The methane is released  primarily through belching.

As with plants, animals respire carbon dioxide, but also store some in their bodies, so they too are considered a neutral source of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Manure Management

A similar microbial process to enteric fermentation leads to methane production from stored manure.  Anytime the manure sits for more than a couple days in an anaerobic (without oxygen) environment, methane will likely be produced.  Methane can be generated in the animal housing, manure storage, and during manure application. Additionally, small amounts of methane is produced from manure deposited on grazing lands.

Nitrous oxide is also produced from manure storage surfaces, during land application, and from manure in bedded packs & lots.

Other sources

There are many smaller sources of greenhouse gases on farms. Combustion engines exaust carbon dioxide from fossil fuel (previously stored carbon) powered vehicles and equipment.  Manufacturing of farm inputs, including fuel, electricity, machinery, fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, plastics, and building materials, also results in emissions.

To learn more about how farm emissions are determined and see species specific examples, see the Carbon Footprint resources.

To learn about how to reduce on-farm emissions through mitigation technology and management options, see the Reducing Emissions resources.

 Additional Resources

Additional Animal Agriculture and Climate Change Resources

Author: Crystal A. Powers, UNL