How to compost a dead horse

August 4, 2010

Composting is a legal and cheap way of disposing of a dead horse for owners facing limited options and rising costs for removal, the Unwanted Horse Coalition says.

Old hay, manure, grass clippings, food scraps, and finished compost can be used to compost horses.
The US-based coalition suggests horse owners consider composting as an option, with burial now banned in parts of the US and some landfills refusing to accept animals.

Coalition director Ericka Caslin points out that rendering plants are not accepting as many animals as they once were and are now charging higher fees. Incineration is an expensive option.

Caslin said the coalition had researched composting as a disposal option.

Dr Shea Porr, the superintendent of the Middleburg Agricultural and Research Extension Centre, says composting is a viable option for larger farms and properties.

"Composting works better on larger farms with a higher population of animals, and farms that are isolated and not close to neighbours."

Porr said she would not suggest it as an option for smaller properties.

Composting can be a relatively inexpensive process for livestock and farm owners, as most of the materials needed can already be found on farms.

A front-end loader is needed, as are composting materials such as old hay, manure, grass clippings, chicken litter, rotten corn silage and finished compost.

Bobby Clark, with the Virginia Co-operative Extension, estimates the cost of composting per head as $US50 to $US75.

Farms can use the finished compost material to fertilise crops, re-vegetate barren areas, create forage or compost other dead animals.

If done successfully, composting can be beneficial to farm owners - not only inexpensive but environmentally friendly.

It can reduce an animal to bones after 60-90 days.

So, how is composting achieved?

In order to compost effectively, a porous material is needed as a base layer to allow airflow, such as old hay, straw or woodchips. This should be about 45cm (18 inches) thick.

Next, on top of the horse, composting material such as manure, grass clippings, chicken litter, rotten corn silage, or finished compost should be laid.

Successful compost material will heat to 131-161 degrees Fahrenheit.

The compost material should have a moisture level of about 50-70 per cent and have a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 10:1 to 40:1.

The finished pile for composting should be 1.8 to 2.4 metres high.
» More on composting
Lastly, an insulating layer will be needed on top, such as woodchips. This needs to also be about 45cm (18 inches) deep.

The finished pile should be around 1.8 to 2.4 metres (6 to 8 feet) high and have a peak or pyramid shape to allow rainfall and snow to shed.

To allow proper airflow to the compost, the pile on top of the horse should be turned once (with the front-end loader) and the temperature should be checked often. The pile should reach 131 degrees or more for at least 3 days.

If you happen to find sections of digging or traces of vermin, cover the sections immediately. A successful compost pile will destroy all soft animal tissues, eliminate odours, destroy pathogens and protect human health and the environment after 60 to 90 days.

After 60 to 90 days of composting at a successful temperature, moisture rate and carbon to nitrogen ratio, the farmer may sift through the pile to see the remnants of the composted animal.

The Virginia Co-operative Extension recommends either deep-stacking the compost for an additional year to decompose bones, or screening or grinding the compost to remove the bones.

It is recommended that the compost be incorporated into the ground if bones are not removed or fully destroyed.

The compost should be sampled and analyzed to determine the nutrient value to ensure it is applied at appropriate rates.

If the horse was euthanised by a barbiturate overdose it is not recommended to land-apply finished compost until more data is released.

Further research is being conducted on the residual amounts of euthanasia solution remaining after the composting process.

Be sure to research any laws or regulations governing composting in your locality. Laws will vary from place to place.