Ag Progress Days 2017 was held August 15-17. In 2018, it will run August 14-16 and again will be at Penn State’s Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs, nine miles southwest of State College, Pennsylvania, research farms. Each year, it draws close to 500 exhibitors from 34 states and four Canadian provinces and tens of thousands of farmers.
Done correctly, there should be no problems composting dead animals on a farm.
“Composting is an economical, convenient, year-round, low maintenance process that leaves you with a usable finished product,” Elizabeth Santini, DVM, veterinary medical field officer with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture told farmers at Ag Progress Days (APD), Pennsylvania’s largest outdoor agricultural exposition.
The secret to a good compost pile, Dr. Santini said, is to build a good base. She said a base should be a minimum of two feet tall and that she likes to see a base approaching three feet high.
“Build your compost pile in a place that is at least 200 feet from water sources,” she advised. That includes wellheads in addition to ponds and streams.
Be sure the chosen location offers all-season access and is away from public view. This latter will keep non-farming neighbors from calling the Agriculture Department and having Dr. Santini or one of her associates coming to pay a visit to the farm.
In addition, it is important to put the pile in an area where live animals cannot meddle. “The whole point is not to have live ones come into contact with the dead ones,” Dr. Santini said.
Lastly, she recommended not putting a compost pile down in a hole or depression. Instead, Dr. Santini said, build compost piles in long, skinny windrows so air can reach all areas of the pile. A good maximum size is eight feet high and 16 feet wide, she said.
To see whether your compost pile is performing properly, Dr. Santini recommended the “squeeze test.” That involves digging into the pile a bit and grabbing — then squeezing —a good handful of the working compost.
“It should be warm,” Dr. Santini said. “It should feel moist.”
If your hand comes out of the squeeze test wet, the pile is too wet. If the composted material blows away in the wind, it is too dry.
She noted that a pile will heat up quickly. Completely frozen solids will increase in temperature by 100 degrees within a week, even in the dead of winter. If the pile temperature gets to about 140 degrees, composting will slow since temperatures that high kill the beneficial organisms that make composting work. A good working compost pile typically will have a temperature between 120 and 130 degrees.
Read more: Guide to Carcass Composting