Livestock Mortalities and Disposal

Carcass management overview

Proper management and disposal of on farm mortalities is the responsibility of every Vermont producer, and farmers should strive to develop effective strategies for managing this issue.  The four legal methods of disposal are mortality composting, rendering, incineration and burial.  Composting and burial must be managed in accordance with the Agency of Agriculture's Acceptable Agricultural Practices regulations.

Composting is the microbial breakdown of organic matter to a more stable material and requires a proper “carbon to nitrogen” ratio. For smaller animals, such as poultry, pigs and sheep, a properly constructed covered structure is recommended. For a few larger animals, such as cattle and horses, a freestanding pile on a well-drained or improved surface is adequate. 

Burial has the greatest number of environmental, public health and safety considerations. Burial sites need to be chosen carefully to prevent groundwater and well water contamination. Adequate cover prevents wild animals, dogs or birds from exhuming the carcasses. Poor coverage of carcasses can spread disease, be unsightly and can attract rodents and flies. Burial requires equipment to lift large animals and dig deep enough holes.

Rendering, where available, is convenient and requires minimal labor. It can be expensive and have biosecurity concerns. Rendering pick-up should be located in an area away from the main animal housing. Dead animals should not be visible to the general public. Due to changes in federal regulations, some rendering companies may no longer accept dead livestock. Call the renderer for more information.

Incineration is convenient but can be expensive and may create odors. Incineration is not the same as open air burning. Incineration requires a special unit specifically designed for that purpose. Local municipalities have authority to regulate air quality. Check your local ordinance before incineration.

Questions regarding livestock mortality management may be directed to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets' Animal Health Office.

Additional resources

Acceptable Composting Practices statutory language

UVM Waste Management and Composting

Maine Composting School

UVM Extension - Disposal of Dead Animals