It’s a truism that when you have livestock, you will have deadstock.
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No matter how well you look after animals, they will expire from old age or medical reasons. It’s an unsavoury and challenging part of managing livestock, whether you do it for the joy of looking after animals or for profit.
In the past, the marketplace has taken care of deadstock. There was value in hides and tissues rendered into leather, pet food and other products. That marketplace has declined to the point where deadstock pickup is an expense for farmers. More regulations for companies processing deadstock, especially the need to separate higher-risk materials, increased costs over the past couple of decades.
Farmers are skilled at finding ways to reduce expenses, as is now the case with deadstock, but industry-level solutions must be found.
The Ontario and federal governments have recently come up with a two-year, $1.5-million program to fund deadstock projects for farm organizations, municipalities and companies involved in removal.
The challenge is similar to the veterinary shortage. I’m lucky to live in a livestock-dense area within a half-hour drive of a city and I have access to both veterinary care and a deadstock disposal service. I’m grateful for both. Not everyone is so lucky, especially in the area north of Toronto and east.
Farmers are finding ways to manage deadstock and most need to have a plan if pickup suddenly doesn’t become an option. Burial is simple but time consuming, and large animals require a rather big hole. I recently wondered if deadstock burial is one of the reasons I saw farmers buying used backhoes over the past several years.
Burial is a common option for handling deadstock and that’s perfectly acceptable, but not everyone has the resources for large-animal burial.
Composting is another option and there’s a need for best practices and technological innovation. A manure pile can take care of a carcass over time, but it has to be managed. Better is a properly secured area where animals can be composted using layers of organic matter. The challenge is carrion and other animals getting into the pile.
Drum composters are popular with larger farms that have smaller livestock, such as poultry or pigs. However, it’s expensive and difficult for smaller farms to afford.
All these options assume that deadstock is a cost of doing business, and I don’t see how that will change. On our dairy farm years ago, we used to receive a cheque for a cow carcass, but we’re years beyond that. Unless leather and other animal byproducts again become globally popular with a sustainable reputation, the marketplace won’t pull demand for animal remains. That’s too bad, because leather is a byproduct of healthy food and using it for human clothing and furniture keeps it from being wasted.
If deadstock disposal continues to be a cost borne by the market, society and farmers, let’s find whole-industry solutions. The best case is pick up for central disposal. Then if there are markets for the remains, they can be filled. This saves farmers from having to bury animals, become experts at carcass composting or invest in mechanical composting equipment.
There are disease trade-offs to deadstock disposal services. On one hand dead animals, which can be disease vectors, are removed from the property and managed by experts. On the other hand, having trucks that roam the countryside, visiting numerous farms per day, can also be a disease vector. There are ways to manage this with off-site collection depots, and farmers do a good job with this, especially with hogs.
The bottom line is that it’s going to take a partnership between public agencies, municipalities and farmers to get it done.