Composting is being used more and more by livestock producers, especially during periods of heavy death loss.
Mary Keena, Extension specialist with North Dakota State University, says she has received more phone calls about composting over the past five years.
“Composting really lends itself well to our environment here in North Dakota and much of the Midwest,” Keena says. “It’s really something that you can use in most environments.”
Keena says composting was used effectively during the most recent outbreak of avian influenza throughout the Midwest.
“Composting has been a big help as we work through it,” she says. “It works pretty rapidly with birds.”
She says much of the composting in her area is done on the ground, but says any system needs to suit that particular environment.
Most producers use a carbon material such as wood chips or corn stalks to help break down the carcasses. Some may use containers, Keena says, adding there are several different alternatives that can be used depending on what meets the needs of the operation.
She says there are some newer technologies being utilized, including one where the carcasses are ground into smaller parts. Keena says that helps break down matter more quickly and allows for a more consistent heating up process.
“Every operation is different,” she says. “What works for one producer may not work for another.”
People are also reading…
Keena says producers may use manure for a starter culture, adding organic material such as straw, corn stalks and wood chips are used in the layers to help with decomposition.
She says the composting process for a mature cow usually takes between nine and 12 months, depending on the producer’s management style.
Composting piles need to be managed regularly, Keena says. She says some livestock producers like to check piles frequently to make sure the process is working, while others may take a more laid-back approach.
“You really want to keep an eye on rows or piles, especially early spring to late fall,” Keena says. “If something is sticking out, you want to make sure you cover it.”
A good rule of thumb, she says, is to check every one to two months.
She says introducing new carcasses to the pile also brings fresh microbes that can help the decomposition process speed up a bit.
Producers need to put some thought into the addition of a composting system, says Erin Cortus, Extension ag engineer with the University of Minnesota. She says most land-grant universities should have resources producers can use to help make that decision.
One thing Cortus says she is seeing used more frequently are systems that involve a roof. She says that system will help manage water better and decrease the risk of runoff.
“A roof really makes it easier to manage the water,” she says.
Producers may also want to consider fencing to help keep animals out of the piles.
Cortus also says producers need to carefully consider the site location for their composting system, making sure it meets any regulatory criteria.