From the Ground Up: Constructing an Animal Mortality Composting Facility


As a livestock producer with a passion for conservation, Duane Stateler knows the importance of a properly managed mortality composting system. So when he saw a gap in the efficiency of his own mortality composting barn, he worked with the Ohio Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to plan and construct a new facility that was economical, environmentally safe and bio-secure. 

“Our old setup we had was just an old barn that we used to raise pigs in, and we basically had three different driveways,” says Duane. “The three beds didn’t work out very well, as far as being able to turn. We needed to have at least five different beds to make the system work well.” 

The driveway beds Duane is referring to are an important part of turning carcass waste into compost – an environmentally and economically valuable resource. 

Creating an optimal environment in which microorganisms can convert the organic material into compost that can be used as a soil amendment or fertilizer relies heavily on the construction of the facility. 

“NRCS has practice standards for any practice that we build,” says Greg Wells, NRCS engineer. “Our practice standards not only provide the criteria by which we plan and site these facilities, but also give us a list of technical references that we use when building these types of facilities.”

Specifications for an animal mortality composting facility include reinforced concrete, pressure-treated lumber and rot-resistant materials. This guidance ensures that the facility will last well beyond its expected lifespan when built according to NRCS construction standards. 

The construction standards of a mortality composting facility encompass three areas: 1) An impervious weight-bearing concrete pad to support and allow heavy equipment to maneuver on; prevent seepage of nutrients and bacteria into groundwater; and provide a durable, all-weather surface to allow the process to continue year-round. 2) A covered roof or other water-repelling material to prevent excessive moisture on composting materials. 3) Rot-resistant building materials strong enough to withstand the force exerted by equipment such as preservative pressure-treated lumber, concrete, hot-dipped galvanized and/or stainless steel nails and fasteners. 

By creating a durable structure, Duane and other producers can experience the benefits to their operation. A properly managed mortality composting system is low-cost, environmentally beneficial and safe. 

Composting has low to moderate start-up costs and minimal operating costs. Availability and cost of a composting medium (sawdust, wood chips, straw, etc.) are the only significant ongoing operating requirements.

In addition, composting in a structure like this is enhanced and accelerated by mixing organic waste with other ingredients to optimize microbial growth. This allows for turning waste into a beneficial fertilizer and soil amendment, resulting in on-farm nutrient recycling. 

Lastly, composting allows immediate year-round disposal of carcasses so that disease is not spread. There is no entry of off-farm vehicles that can bring disease onto the farm from other operations, and the high temperatures in the compost pile kill pathogens. A well-functioning compost pile gives off little odor and does not harm or affect groundwater. Nuisances such as flies, vermin, and scavenging animals are also prevented. 

“Animal mortality composting facilities provide the farmer a way to dispose of animal carcass waste on-site in an eye-appealing manner,” says Greg. “And if it’s managed right, the farmer doesn’t have any water quality or odor concerns.”

Producers looking to implement this practice in their operations should take the next steps by contacting their local NRCS office for financial and technical assistance and check out the OSU Extension “Ohio Mortality Composting Certification Workshop.” 

To view the construction process of a mortality composting facility at the Stateler Family Farms demonstration site, visit the Animal Mortality Composting practice page.