TECHNICAL ARTICLES Broilers/Layers/Breeders

Composting Poultry Carcasses – An Alternative Method of Disposal

Traditionally poultry producers in this country use pits for the disposal of dead birds. These may be covered with commercially available covers to reduce flies, have enzymes added to digest the contents or simply be holes in the ground. This system of carcase disposal, over time will affect the ground water especially in soils with a high water table. In addition, theft may occur or the contents eaten and dispersed by feral cats or rodents causing bio-security problems.

Incineration is probably the best method of carcase disposal, but even this has its drawbacks. It tends to be slow, expensive and may also cause air pollution.

Composting of carcases began in the US in the late 1980s, and in Alabama it is now common practice. Large operations utilise tractors and loaders to facilitate composting, however mini-composters have become popular with smaller growers.

The simple design consists of a wooden bin 1.2m x 1.2m x1.2m with wooden removable slatted sides. (see illustration). This size bin can handle normal mortality (1 broiler per thousand per day) for a 5000 bird unit over the 6 week growout. Excessive losses would not be handled by this method. In addition, breeder or layer units would need to be assessed to ascertain the best size for the longer cycle and bigger birds.

To operate the composter, a 15 to 20cm layer of litter is put in the base. This is followed by a thin layer of straw or hay (optional). Thereafter a layer of carcasses covering the surface but kept 15cm from the sides (to eliminate flies and odour) is placed in the composter. The carcasses are covered with a thin layer of manure and the process is repeated. Once the composter is full a double layer of litter is added to seal it. If the litter is very dry, water may be added. The hay or straw assists in aerating the composter.

After 7 to 10 days the temperature will rise to between 55 and 65 degrees Celsius, which stabilises the compost. After this point is reached, the compost may be removed for use or storage.

Due to the temperatures reached, the compost is sterile and does not pose a biosecurity risk. The area containing the composters must however be as secure as possible to prevent theft and predation.

Although the compost may vary in its composition, the general nutrient content of broiler compost is:

  • Moisture 28%
  • Nitrogen 1.9%
  • Phosphorus 2.3%
  • Potassium 1.6%

Alternative methods for the disposal of poultry carcasses are limited, and mini-composting presents itself as a desirable environmental and economic option. This method of disposal can be used safely during a quarantine situation.

Date published: 2007-07-10

Tim Nixon

Adapted from article
by John P Blake, James
O Donald and Donald E Conner,
Auburn University