Mortality Management

In Nebraska, routine livestock mortalities can be legally disposed of in five different ways: burial, incineration, composting, rendering, and disposal in a landfill. Regardless of which method is used, it is important to dispose of the animal or animals within 24 hours of death, or sooner if possible. When choosing a mortality disposal method, cost, labor input, and personal preferences usually dictate an individual’s decision. Additionally, animal mortality facility standards have been developed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Incineration can be costly considering the purchase of the incinerator itself and the fuel usage to operate it. This type of disposal is best suited to operations with smaller animals, such as poultry, or low mortality rates. These limitations help ensure that incinerator capacity will be available when a mortality occurs. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality dictates requirements for ensuring air quality when operating an incinerator.

Rendering remains available as a disposal option in most livestock-producing areas of Nebraska and surrounding states. Limitations to how frequently animals are picked up may exist depending on the size of an operation and distance from the nearest rendering facility, so on-site storage of mortalities for a day or two may be necessary if daily pick-up is not offered. While rendering is convenient and relatively inexpensive for many producers, there is a biosecurity concern since rendering trucks may visit multiple farms on a daily or weekly basis, potentially carrying disease-causing organisms between farms. A well-defined “line of separation” at the mortality collection point becomes valuable for limiting disease transfer risks.

Burial of carcasses, when done in compliance with state and local regulations, is an accepted mortality disposal method in Nebraska. No permit is required, but recommendations and guidelines do exist. The disposal site should be selected to minimize ground and surface water contamination. Topography, soil characteristics, depth to ground water, proximity to sensitive water bodies, and separation distances to neighbors, roads, etc. should be considered. Animals should be buried within thirty-six hours of death and should be placed at least four feet below the ground surface. Recommended separation distances for burial sites in Nebraska include:

Recommended Separation Distances for Mortality Burial Sites
5 ft bottom of pit to groundwater
100 ft edge of major cut or embankment
300 ft water bodies and roads
500 ft domestic wells, residences, other livestock facilities, adjacent pastures managed by another person, and secondary highways
1000 ft public water supply wells and primary highways
Remain 500 ft outside well-head protection areas

Composting is perhaps one of the most natural mortality disposal options and offers good biosecurity and disease control when done correctly. On-site disposal of animals prevents risk associated with transport of mortalities off of the farm and eliminates the need for a vehicle to enter the farm after handling mortalities on another farm. Appropriate mixtures of carbon and nitrogen sources, moisture, sufficient base material, and sufficient carbon material covering the pile are required to achieve temperatures capable of degrading the carcass(es) and destroying disease-causing organisms. Composting is regulated in Nebraska by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (Title 23, Chapter 17). Basic requirements include selecting and preparing a site that is not visible from public roads or habitable structures; avoiding ponding of liquids or runoff to surface water; controlling leachate; ensuring all-weather access; controlling disease vectors, dust and litter; processing all carcasses within 24 hours of and removing all finished compost within 12 months. Utilization of finished compost should be done in accordance with an approved nutrient management plan.

Landfill disposal is generally utilized very little by livestock producers. Transportation of carcasses, tipping fees charge by the landfill, and refusal of carcasses by the landfill operator are all deterrents to this disposal method. Individual landfill operators will make decisions about what they will and will not accept, so if this is a disposal option that is being considered, it is advisable to contact area landfills to inquire about their acceptance of carcasses prior to when the need for mortality disposal arises. Additionally, transport of mortalities from a farm to a landfill for disposal must be conducted by a licenses rendering service.

Strengths, challenges, and disease transfer risk associated with approved mortality disposal methods in Nebraska
Method Location Strengths Challenges Disease Transfer Risk
Incineration On-farm
  • Complete destruction of carcasses
  • Effective at eliminating disease-causing organisms
  • Considerable fuel requirement
  • Air Quality permit required
Very Low
Landfill Off-farm
  • Immediately available
  • Low visibility
  • Minimal environmental impact
  • “Hands-off” for producer
  • Landfills may refuse acceptance of animal carcasses
  • Tipping fee is associated with disposal
  • Transportation of carcass must be by licensed rendering service
Moderate to High
Burial On-farm or Off-farm
  • Low input costs
  • Fairly simple, straightforward
  • Low visibility
  • No movement of animals off-site
  • Potential environmental risk from leachate
  • Persistence of disease-causing organism in soil
  • Slow decomposition of carcasses
  • Long-term management required
  • Potential restriction to future farm use
Composting On-farm or Off-farm
  • Relatively low input costs
  • Most equipment and supplies available on-farm
  • No movement of animals off-site
  • Effective at inactivating disease-causing organisms when done correctly
  • Yields a beneficial soil amendment
  • Can produce odors if not managed correctly
  • Requires on-going monitoring
  • Requires site preparation to control storm water accumulation and/or runoff, and leaching
  • Requires access to sufficient carbon material
Rendering Off-farm
  • Complete destruction of carcass
  • Typically always available
  • “Hands-off” for producer
  • Proximity to facilities may limit availability and cost
  • On-site carcass storage may be required if no daily pick-up service
Moderate to High

In the event of a catastrophic mortality, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture has emergency response guidelines and actions. Each operations should also have a plan for this kind of an emergency.

Part I of Biosecurity | Part II - Mortality Management | Part III - Manure Management | Complete the Quiz


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