Spring 2009

Planning Considerations for Livestock and Poultry Mortality Disposal: Part 4 - Emergency Planning

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By Tom Glanville, Department of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering, Iowa State University

In the past three issues of the Odor and Nutrient Management Newsletter, the pros and cons of using rendering, incineration, burial — on the farm or in landfills, and composting, were covered. This final installment is about emergency disposal planning.

Catastrophic poultry and livestock losses are not unusual. Their scope varies from incidents affecting single operations (fire, ventilation failure, building collapse) to disease- and weather-related losses affecting whole regions. Examples of regional losses in North America in the past five years include a major avian influenza outbreak in British Columbia (2004); hurricanes Rita and Katrina (2005); range land wildfires in North Texas (2006); prolonged heat stress in central California (2006 and 2007;, blizzards in Colorado and Kansas (2007); and flooding in Iowa and Illinois in 2008.

When catastrophic losses occur, quick action is needed to minimize bio-security risks and prevent air and water pollution. And it is usually too late to calmly consider all the options. If an emergency plan hasn’t been worked out in advance, hasty decisions, often based on incorrect assumptions, can lead to costly and sometimes long-term mistakes. Here are five common and incorrect assumptions about emergency disposal that you may want to consider as you develop an emergency disposal plan for your operation. 

Misconception 1. Landfills will always accept animal loses in an emergency.
A recent survey conducted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR)found that, of 46 Iowa landfill operators surveyed, 30 percent said they do not accept animal mortalities. Another 26 percent indicated that they would accept carcasses only when certain criteria are met. Examples of the types of criteria mentioned included: 

  • Having a pre-arranged agreement with the landfill;
  • Filing an advanced notice of “intent to deliver”— including information on the quantity and condition of the waste to be disposed;
  • Pre-arranging a delivery schedule;
  • Bagging the carcasses or delivering them in leak-proof containers;
  • Passing a paint filter test; and
  • Passing visual inspection by landfill staff.

So if your emergency disposal plan relies on your local landfill, be sure to talk with landfill staff now, to avoid surprises later on.

Misconception 2. I can always bury them on my farm.
 Burying large quantities of carcasses in a concentrated area poses significant pollution risks to shallow groundwater and nearby streams. To protect these natural resources, DNR has developed a burial zone map identifying locations with highly permeable soils, shallow groundwater, steep slopes, or that are close to lakes, streams, or sensitive public areas. About 30 percent of Iowa falls into these categories. If your farm is in one of these zones, then emergency burial may not be approved. Check the DNR burial zone map on the web at www.iowadnr.gov/mapping/maps/livestock_burial_zones.html or contact your DNR regional office to determine if there are areas on your farm that can be approved for mass burial. Also keep in mind that DNR requires mass burial sites to be recorded on the deed to your property, and groundwater monitoring wells also must be installed near these sites and sampled periodically.

Misconception 3. The rendering plant will always take large numbers of carcasses in an emergency.
Iowa is fortunate to have five rendering plants. But these operations have a fixed capacity and many customers with service contracts. So on the day when you need emergency service, much will depend on the number of animals you have lost, and whether the plant has excess transportation and processing capacity available at that time. If your emergency disposal plan will rely on rendering, contact your rendering service before disaster strikes to discuss their ability to handle all, or a significant portion, of your herd or flock.

Misconception 4. Carcasses can be incinerated in an emergency.
Iowa air pollution regulations require carcass incineration to be done using engineered incinerators equipped with afterburners, or other approved incineration devices that meet smoke emission limits set by DNR. If you plan to rely on incineration for emergency disposal, you’ll need to invest in approved high-capacity high-temperature incineration equipment, or establish a contract with an emergency service provider that has mobile equipment of this type.

Misconception 5. Windrow composting practices can be used to rapidly cover and decompose carcasses during an emergency.
Windrow composting has been used successfully during emergencies around the U.S. and in Iowa. But the quantity of cover material needed is large, particularly when composting large carcasses. Emergency composting research done by Iowa State University for the DNR showed that about 1 ton of ground straw, or 1.4 tons of ground cornstalks, are needed for each 1,000 pounds of large carcasses. So if composting is part of your emergency disposal plan, stockpiling baled straw or stalks, or contracting with someone who can supply them quickly in an emergency, is essential. Also keep in mind that these materials must be run through a grinder to work effectively.

Two state agencies regulate and provide assistance with livestock disposal in Iowa. The Animal Industry Bureau of the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship (515-281-8601) handles animal health and diseases control issues. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources handles environmental protection aspects of carcass disposal. Contact your regional DNR field office for advice on local conditions affecting animal disposal.


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