Virginia Tech® home

Catastrophic Livestock and Poultry Carcass Disposal



Authors as Published

Bobby Clark, Virginia Cooperative Extension; Gary Flory, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality; Bob Peer, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality; Dr. Dan Hadacek, Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services; and Scott Greiner, Virginia Tech

This guide is intended to assist Virginia’s farmers in understanding their mortality disposal options during natural disasters and non-infectious disease events. Blizzards, tornadoes, extreme heat, and floods are just a few examples of the severe weather events that may result in significant losses to farm animal populations. Animal losses often cause significant financial losses to the farmers who rely on the income from these animals. Compounding the financial impact of these animal losses is the burden of responsibly disposing of the resulting animal carcasses. Improperly managed, animal carcasses have the potential to spread disease and contaminate surface and groundwater supplies.

The most appropriate disposal option for an individual farmer depends on a number of factors, including the number of animals lost, current routine mortality disposal method, presence of an appropriate on-site composting site, and current rendering and landfill capacity.

Information on the disposal of routine on-farm mortalities is available from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)i and Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE)ii. Prior to disposal, all non-routine animal losses (i.e. unknown disease, unusual symptoms or increased mortality that cannot be explained) should be reported to your veterinarian or to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS 804-786-2483).

photo of a tractor pouring organic matter onto a field.

Catastrophic Option 1:

Composting mortality within an existing structure such as a commodity shed or poultry litter storage building can often be an effective and affordable disposal option. Composting within a structure minimizes environmental impacts and the disturbance of the carcasses by domestic or wild animals. Care should be taken to minimize contact between the compost pile and wooden portions of the structure. Composting can be accomplished by placing alternating layers of a carbon material such as wood chips or shavings and animal carcasses. If requested, DEQ or VCE can provide technical assistance with the composting process (see reference section for recommended publications). Woodchips are often available at the local landfill.

Catastrophic Option 2:

If composting inside a structure is not practical, farmers can contact DEQ for assistance in locating an appropriate on-farm composting site. Technical assistance for the construction of compost piles is available from DEQ and VCE.

Catastrophic Option 3:

Rendering facilities may be available for the disposal of poultry, cattle less than 30 months in age, and other livestock. Valley Proteins, Inc. (540-877-2590) operates three rendering facilities in Virginia including plants in Linville, Emporia, and Winchester. Poultry mortality must be received at the rendering facility within 18 hours of loss. Regardless of the animal type, farmers should disinfect their vehicles at the disinfection station prior to leaving the facility. Prior to transporting carcasses to the rendering facility, farmers should check with the rendering plant to confirm that capacity is available.

Catastrophic Option 4:

Farmers may be able to take animal carcasses to a permitted commercial composting facility. Prior to transporting carcasses, farmers should contact the facility to make sure they can accept them.

Catastrophic Option 5:

Local and regional landfills may be able to accept animal carcasses. Carcasses must be transported in a manner that does not result in fluid leaks during transport. Landfills should be contacted prior to delivering the carcass to the landfill. In some cases, landfills may need to request approval to accept carcasses from DEQ. In this case, landfill operators should contact their local DEQ office.

Catastrophic Option 6:

Incineration is a viable disposal option. Incinerators utilize an energy source such as propane gas, LP gas, or diesel fuel with forced air in a combustion chamber(s) to reduce animal mortalities to ashes. When properly operated, incinerators prevent the emission of objectionable odors and excessive amounts of particulate matter. Air permits must be obtained for all incinerators, except poultry and swine incinerators as described in 9 VAC 5-80-1105 B.15, from DEQ to install and operate in Virginia (there are specific design and operation standards that need to be met prior to being approved). Cost and permitting requirements make incineration expensive and likely not viable in most instances.

Unacceptable Disposal Methods:

Through the years many farming practices have evolved. The disposal of animal carcasses is no exception. Some practices that were routine 20 years ago are no longer acceptable due to disease transmission or environmental concerns.

Practices to Avoid Include:

  • Dragging carcasses to a bone yard or to the woods;

  • Digging a trench and burying large numbers of carcasses (DEQ guidance limits On-Site Burial to no more than 2,000 pounds of dead animals on any given acre per year and is only intended for routine mortality);

  • Burying carcasses near wells, surface water, or in areas with shallow groundwater (see the reference section for information on burial of routine animal mortality);

  • Placing animals on top of a brush pile and burning;

  • Dumping carcasses in streams, rivers or manure pits; or

  • Allowing animals to decompose where they died.

For additional information, contact:

Bobby Clark, Virginia Cooperative Extension,, 540-459-6140 or 540-333-3227.

Gary Flory, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality,, 540-574-7840.

Bob Peer, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality,, 540-574-7866.

Dr. Dan Hadacek, Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services,, 540-209-9120


Fact sheet produced by the Virginia Catastrophic Livestock Mortality Taskforce: A cooperative effort between the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Virginia Cooperative Extension, United States Department of Agriculture, Virginia Dairymen’s Association, Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, Virginia Poultry Federation and Virginia Farm Bureau.


On-Site Composting of Routine Animal Mortality

Incineration Regulations

On-Site Burial of Routine Animal Mortality

On Farm Composting

The following links are to USDA Guidance Documents for managing catastrophic livestock mortality in disease situations. Some of these principals apply to non-infectious situations.

Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Virginia Cooperative Extension is a partnership of Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments. Its programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, sex (including pregnancy), gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, military status, or any other basis protected by law

Publication Date

June 5, 2019