Composting Poultry and Swine Carcasses

Final Report for FNC95-093

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1995: $4,926.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1996
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


I, Mark Hart, contract grow 42,000 turkeys each year, farrow to feeder 140 sows per year and farm 140 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat.

Before receiving this grant I did carry out sustainable agriculture practices. With the increased amount of manure I have since I began raising turkeys, poultry manure has been the major source of all my nutrients. I have also used pre-side dress nitrogen testing and crop rotations to further reduce my nitrogen applications.

1) The project goals as identified in the original report are as follows: the goal of this project was to construct an on farm poultry and swine carcass composter for my 12,000 turkey grows out operation and 60 sow farrow to feeder operation. My goal was to address the current problem of disposing of dead carcasses at a collection point set up by the contractor. This had potential for disease transmission, and required about one hour per week to drive to the collection point and dispose of my dead carcasses.
2) I began exploring composting of carcasses many years ago and was always inquiring and collecting information on the subject. I first began on a very small scale and soon began composting in a large windrow, but wet weather interfered with the day to day operation of the windrow and I soon was looking for other options. After hearing about the Sustainable Agriculture Grant program from an article in the Farmweek Publication, I then contacted the local extension office, for an application and began to inquire more about a roofed structure. I found a worksheet from a Poultry Composing Guide that helped me determine the size of my composter. At this time, I knew there would be a large expense in constructing a roofed composter and determined the grant may be a way to help offset the cost and share the information I gained with other producers about this new process. I applied for the grant and received funding after which I began construction and completed the fall of 1995/winter of 1996. I decided I would not have a field day out at the farm because the main purpose of the composter was for disease protection. I then asked for help from our local high school audio visual department to make a video tape that can be passed around and observed by other local producers in the area.

Many people helped in making this project/grant a success, including:
- Cooper Farms, Inc. Carl Link who donated $100.00 for tapes and hosted the producer meeting at which I showed the entire tape of the composting project and how the Sustainable Agriculture Grant helped me with the cost of the project and the educational tape.
- Mid-West Poultry Services, Inc. Leon Lamontagne who donated $50.00 for tapes.
- Ft. Recovery Equity, Inc. Mark Will who donated $25.00 for tapes
- Menke Consulting, Inc. Jeff Wuebker who helped in researching the project, taking slides and pictures, writing the video script, taping and editing video, and tape promotion.
- Video Production-Jay County Schools, Dave Reece, Audio Visual Director, who helped with taping, editing and reproducing tapes.
- Jay County Extension Office John Knipp who has helped with data collection and educational outreach.

First of all, my family and I constructed a concrete, roofed structure in which I now compost all my dead turkeys and hogs from my operation. Previous methods of freezing carcasses and delivering them twice per week to the collection point had a high potential for transmitting diseases in this highly concentrated poultry area. By building an on farm composter, I do not have to leave the farm with my dead animals. The composter works as everyone said it would, but there is one thing that I would change for turkey producers who are considering composting. I would size the composter 10-20% larger for the larger turkey carcasses. I have collected data on carbon sources, moisture, temperature and pounds of carcasses composted and have found turkey starter litter or any wood based carbon source with some nitrogen works best. I have also noticed that the larger turkey carcasses take a little longer to hear up which probably is whey the composter seems a little undersized. I now have an end product that I use as a crop nutrient source for my 140 acre farm. I applied some compost from the windrow system the fall before in a side by side comparison with turkey litter and the yield check showed the compost with an 11 bushel increase over the turkey litter.

First, I have learned how to apply for producer grants such as yours. I have learned the proper operation and management of my composter. I now have compost that I utilize on my 140 acre of row crops and small grains, reducing fertilizer costs and disease potential. After testing the compost for nutrient value, I know I can apply approximately 10 tons of compost per acre and supply most of the nitrogen needed for next years corn crop. I now realize what goes into making a tape and know it takes a lot of planning to put a full scale video together.

The advantage I see to a project such as mine is the opportunity to learn new sustainable techniques, being able to share my experience with others and being financially assisted to initiate the project and then carry out the outreach to other producers in the area. If I am asked, and I already have been, about the project, I tell producers to view one of the tapes and consider the two biggest advantages which are a reduction in disease potential and on overall savings in time, before they make the investment of constructing an on farm mortality composter. I am also telling producers to work with their local Soil and Water Conservation Districts if they have funding available for projects such as this or to check out the Sustainable Agriculture Grant through the North Central Region of Extension for funding.

Although I have a sizable investment in my composter, I estimate my composter to cost me including machinery and labor about $2500/year for ten years. I use this example to compare it to current rendering methods. If a producer is spending 2.5 hours per week taking mortalities to a renderer it costs them approximately $1300/year (130 hours at 10.00/hr) plus freezer costs, electric, wear and tear on a trick and the big unknown of increased chance for disease transmittal. These costs can easily exceed $1500 per year not to mention pick up or drop off fees required with most renders that can range form $15-50 per load. I project the composter will produce about 100 tons of compost at $10.00/ton = $1000 or about $1500 net cost to me not including the decreased chance for disease potential.

I know my concrete, roofed structure has much less chance for water quality problems then the windrow system I was previously using. I really nave no way to determine the social impacts of the composter other than I have NOT received any complaints from neighbors regarding the composting process or applying compost to my farmland.

I had Mr. Dave Reece from “Jay Today” our local high school audio visual program, make a 15 minute tape of the design, operation, management, and costs of the composter, along with the approximate time each day required to run the composter. Copies of this tape are available to any local poultry or swine contractor of farmer to be used in their compost design. Cooperators who pledged money for these tapes included: Cooper Farms-turkey, layer, broiler and swine contractor, Mid-West Poultry, Inc.-layer contractor, and Fort Recovery Equity, Inc.-layer and swine contractor. I have also placed tapes in the local agriculture education classrooms, local extension and soil and water conservation offices, and local business. To date 10 tapes have been distributed in the area with more to follow. I also showed the entire tape to the Cooper Farms grower meeting on November 26, 1996, with 200 people in attendance. I and many of the business and public agencies are beginning to promote the tapes via word of mouth and newsletters to view and pass around to other producers.

I have also enclosed a copy of an article that appeared on the DTN under local information on April 4, 1996, on the Purdue and Ohio State University pages which is entitled “Grants Will Help Farmers Sustain Agriculture” and the same article appeared Wednesday April 24, 1996 in the Farmweek weekly agricultural publication entitled, “Sustainable Ag Grants Available in Midwest”.

We provided all attendees of the producer meeting with a two page sheet that had many of the commonly asked questions and a sheet that warned of the potential for fires with a composter. All attendees received an evaluation form that asked them to comment on the entire night’s program. Of all that were turned in 13 made reference to the composting tape, ten of the responses were positive and three responses were negative.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.