Guidelines for livestock carcass disposal in South Dakota

Tracey Erickson
SDSU Extension Dairy Field Specialist

Even though every producer tries their best to keep all animals born alive, there will always be death loss in livestock production systems. Thus, we need to keep in mind the regulations surrounding disposal. Why? Carcass disposal is crucial to preventing the spread of disease and protecting the environment as well as being regulated by South Dakota law with oversight provided by the South Dakota Animal Industry Board.

As livestock producers we are reminded that South Dakota law requires that animals who have died from non-communicable causes shall be properly disposed of within 36 hours by either burning, or being buried to a depth of four feet, composted or disposed of by a licensed rendering plant. Producers should also take site selection into consideration when disposing of carcasses and considering location in relation to public view and proximity to roadways. What follows are basic guidelines for proper livestock burial, composting, burning/incineration or rendering.


This option is very inexpensive and a secure way to dispose of dead livestock. Remember the following:

• Call before digging. Use the SD One Call System at 1-800-781-7474 or Dial 811.

• Avoid extremely porous soils or areas with high amounts of sand or gravel.

• Minimal setbacks need to be:

- 1,000 feet away from surface water or boundaries of a floodplain or river.

- Outside of a wetland.

- 1,000 feet from an occupied dwelling.

- 1,000 feet from any private or public drinking water well.

- 200 feet from a road right-of-way or property boundary (without permission of adjacent property owner).

For more burial resources view this Onsite Burial Handout ( courtesy of the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University.


This option is also inexpensive and environmentally-friendly. When done properly it will result in an organic material that can be applied to fields. Things will you need to consider in designing your compost pile? 1. Compost site and location. 2.Compost materials and ingredients. 3.Compost design. 4.Equipment Requirements.

When choosing a site and location you should first consider: 1. Locating your site away from water sources, such as streams, ponds, sloughs, lakes, and wells. 2. The site should be well-drained and should not accumulate surface water. 3. You should consider its location relative to your livestock facilities for access year-round. 4. It should be aesthetically pleasing. 5. Traffic patterns are also a consideration. You don’t want to be hauling your mortalities on a major road to your compost pile.

Secondly, what materials or ingredients are needed to start your compost pile? 1. A carbon source, which could be any of these ingredients: sawdust, crop residues, chopped corn stover or old corn silage, cereal grain straw, cattle manure, and dried grass or yard waste. Ideally the ingredients should be about 50-60% moisture and of small particle size; however oxygen will still need to be able to penetrate into the medium. 2. A nitrogen source, which is the animal carcasses, however, when starting a fresh pile you may need to add nitrogen in the form of ammonium nitrate. 3. Water should be available if the carbon medium is too dry and water would need to be added to get it to the ideal 50-60% moisture content. The optimal Carbon:Nitrogen ratio is 25:1.

Compost design is the third item to consider. Will your compost site be a mound, a roofed or an unroofed composter? The advantage of a roofed composter is less weather effects, there is worker protection during inclement weather, it is more aesthetically pleasing, and rodent control is more easily performed. Unroofed composters have the advantage of being less costly. In addition, concrete bases are optional. However, something to strongly consider is rodent or pest control, as you do not want animal parts being drug out by dogs, vermin, or other animals and left to lie all over the countryside. A fenced area helps this situation.

The last part to consider is your equipment you will need when composting.

• You will want to have either a tractor with a loader on it or a skid loader. This equipment will help facilitate working with the carbon source and handling the carcasses. A pile should be turned to add oxygen to the pile once the temperature starts to drop.

• You should also have a probe type thermometer at least 36” long and preferably made out of stainless steel so it will last.

• A manure spreader is needed for the disposal of your compost when the process is complete.

• A logbook is utilized to record the number of animals buried, dates, weights, temperature readings and inventories.

• A moisture tester is useful to monitor the percent moisture in the pile. A moisture test can also be done in an old microwave reserved for this purpose if you have a gram or ounce scale.

• A water source should also be available.

The “art side” of this process is the management of your pile. Some basic things to remember are that when you start a pile, the ideal moisture should be between 50-60%. If you start your compost pile in the winter, a fresh pile, it may not actually start composting until the weather warms. A frozen carcass will not start decaying until thawed, thus carcasses placed in a warm medium such as corn silage taken from a silage pile, will start degrading faster. In addition, finished compost can be used to help start a new compost pile. It helps get to the desired temperature faster along with getting the desired bacteria established faster. Compost should have an internal temperature of 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 2-3 days. Mortalities should be added in layers and surrounded completely on all sides by at least one foot of carbon medium. You should prevent rodent problems from the start. You must commit to continued monitoring of the pile. And lastly, if there is putrid odor present in your compost pile, something is wrong with the composting system!

Additional composting resources can be found in this Carcass Disposal / Composting Handout ( courtesy of the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University.

Burning or incineration

It can be difficult to either bury or compost dead animals in cold weather, thus incineration is an alternative option. The SD Animal Industry Board recommends the following guidelines be followed if utilizing this option.

• Notify local fire departments prior to initiating.

• The site should be a minimum of 1,000 feet from an occupied dwelling, propane tank, fuel tank or other containers storing flammable substances.

• It should take place only during favorable weather conditions.

• The smoke plume should be monitored not to impact neighbors, highway or airport traffic.

• Do not use fuels such as tires, railroad ties or treated wood to help fuel the fire.


This option provides an excellent opportunity to utilize animal protein for carcasses that cannot enter the food chain. However, the availability of rendering services can have limited access in areas across South Dakota.

Keep in mind that vehicles hauling dead animal carcasses for rendering need to be inspected and permitted by the South Dakota Animal Industry Board. This helps ensure that transport vehicles prevent the spread of disease, utilize appropriate sanitation practices and that carcasses are transported in leak-proof, covered containers. The South Dakota Animal Industry Board website provides a list of rendering companies.